American Woman

This newest painting in the An-Noor series is a three paneled piece titled Maestà. The title means “Majesty” in Italian and “designates an iconic formula of the enthroned Madonna with the child Jesus, whether or not accompanied with angels and saints.” (wiki)

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The subjects are my friend Amani, her son, and twin daughters. She’s a badass mom whom I really respect and admire.

The most direct inspiration for the painting is Giotto’s Madonna Enthroned.
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When researching historical portraiture/iconography with strong and powerful figures, I came across many images of male political, military, religious figures, and superheroes. There were, however, a few notable exceptions (see Rosie the Riveter). The most striking of these exceptions are images of Mary, mother of Jesus. Her image has been produced and reproduced, she is immensely recognizable, but remains a dynamic figure.  Not to mention that she is an important figure in Islam as well as Christianity.  I feel that Mary, an embodiment of both strength and gentleness, was the perfect image to take on for this body of work, to explore motherhood as a part of female strength, because I think that a woman’s natural role as a mother is one that does not diffuse her power, but reflects it.


     

The American flag, which pretty clearly identifies the subjects as American, has a few references within it. In the stripes, I created an organic design that has a geometric pattern within it. The geometric pattern is a pretty typical Islamic pattern. I also included a bright green line into the stripes (complementary colors!) to give it a little kick.

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The stars are a reference to the blue domed church ceilings with gold or yellow stars. I saw many ceilings like this when I went to Italy as a 17 year old. They really stood out to me, but I hadn’t thought of them in years, until I started drafting this painting. I haven’t been able to find a definitive resource that explains the meaning of the starred church ceilings.  The most I could find was on this blog, where the author had the same question about the significance of these stars after seeing them in a number of churches.  She found that “painted yellow stars against a blue background on its vaulted ceiling [are] symbols of Saint Mary in Catholic tradition.”
  

There are also a couple of butterflies (yummy symmetry and beautiful metaphor) and a sunflower (in the boy’s hand, a reference to a previous painting). Adding these elements was pretty spontaneous and last minute, but I really love what they do for the painting.
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Technique/Materials
The stars were each made of six diamond-shaped pieces of cardstock that I cut with an exacto knife. I made a shallow cut down the middle of each diamond so they would fold in half cleanly. I would fold the diamond shape, fill it with gloss gel and modeling paste, then adhere to the canvas. Originally I had hoped to just sculpt the stars out of the modeling paste, but it was not rigid enough. I attempted to “pipe” the paste into star shapes as though I were using icing, but that was a big fail, as well. I had to try to scrape some of it off, which only kind of worked. It was a messy and tedious process (I don’t know how many hundreds of diamonds I had to cut and recut), but at the end, the stars look a lot like what I remember seeing in Italy so many years ago.
The stars were then painted and gold leafed, and traced. Some of them are silver, for fun.
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The halos are made from gold mica flake, gold sequins, modeling paste, and rhinestones. I used a butter knife to spread the modeling paste and mica flake.

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Around the blue area I used black glitter (on the bottom) and gold glitter at the top.
There is some pattern painted on top of the figures (most of it is towards the bottom of the canvas) with a silvery glaze that only appears at certain angles.

The patterning in the stripes was all drafted ahead of time using my Sketchbook app. For the figures, I spliced together a bunch of different photos (y’all know that it is impossible to get a family picture where everyone looks normal at the same instant).

This painting feels a bit different to me. I had to figure how to do a lot of new things, work with a lot of new materials, because just gold leaf and acrylic paint wasn’t going to cut it for this painting. I kept feeling like I needed to go “over the top” with the ornamentation on this piece, that I needed to do too much.  I think that the final product actually turned out pretty balanced, but that sentiment helped me to take it far outside my comfort zone.

I also am not so concerned with describing this painting’s meaning too specifically. It is both abundantly clear what this piece means, and open ended enough that I trust that whatever people get from it is accurate.

Check out the gallery for a few process pictures.

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Inner Sun

I’m REALLY excited about this newest painting.  The making of this painting was very new to me… Using the Sketchbook app on iPad, I was able to take the level of design on this to a much higher level.  Not only am I thrilled with the experience and finished product of this painting, but I can see all sorts of possibilities for future work.  Which is invigorating.

“Maria (Inner Sun)” is 20″ x 60,” in acrylic paint, gold leaf, and glass beads (the liquitex medium)

BEFORE PAINTING:
I photographed this subject, Maria, almost a year ago.  She is actually doing zumba outdoors, but I cropped her body out of it.  Maria has an amazing personal story, and clearly, a beautiful smile.  In the complete photograph, Maria’s arms are outstretched, and the worm’s eye view shows the bright blue sky over her head.  Her body language, the smile on her face, her outstretched arms, and the vastness of the sky create an overwhelming feeling of freedom, openness, and connectedness with this great big world.  To translate this feeling into her painting was challenging… (which is why it has been so long since I photographed her!)  I fussed with this composition for a long time and scrapped a lot of ideas before I finally came up with the right imagery for her.

I created the design around Maria using the Sketchbook app.  I was able to draw freehand using a stylus, but as I drew, the app created a mirror image of every single element – perfect bilateral symmetry.  And then I was also able to reflect the bottom and top half of the image using the layering options.  This might be total child’s play compared to Photoshop, but I love that I am still drawing while using it.  I was able to edit the crap out of the design with relative ease.

PROCESS:
Basically I taped off the canvas and painted the shades of blue, the white and yellow beams, first.  Then I projected the design on top, and drew it on with white charcoal so I wouldn’t get pencil marks in the paint.  Then I painted the design in gold, then glued the gold leaf on top of that.  I painted Maria after I had finished the whole design.  The top of the painting – the pink/red… is covered in glass beads and comes off of the canvas about a 1/4.”  There was a lot of tedious fixing of edges and patching of gold leaf. Overall I spent a lot of time drafting this image and designing it, and actually making the painting was a super efficient process as a result.

Now the coolest thing about this painting, is that as I worked, the design got more and more and more complex.  I reversed positive and negative areas, I wove the white line through the gold leafed shapes…  I am just so excited about this experience, this whole new way of making art.  I would never dream of doing anything like this with pencil and paper.  Hoorayyyy technology!

I always worry about how to move forward, to get better, to challenge myself…  and I think that this emphasis on designs is where it’s at.  It is such a neat thing, to try to communicate meaning in these flat forms.  To make it all feel like something.  To draw it by hand.  It is like speaking a new language.  Suddenly I saw it everywhere – rugs, people’s clothes (I was particularly inspired by Jennifer Lopez’s dress at the Oscars?), my shower curtain…

The straight lines and geometric shapes on one layer, with organic lines curling over them in gold…It is this conversation between hard and soft, masculine and feminine.  They are separate elements, but they communicate with each other and effect each other.  Clearly I’m obsessed with all this.  And that’s the dragon that I am chasing when searching for inspiration… I can’t just be interested in it, I need to be obsessed.

SYMBOLISM:
The symbolism in this painting is not quite as straightforward as what I often do.  I have an enormous painting that I want to do next that is going to be exploding with pretty literal symbolic imagery (plus a whole bunch of organic and geometric designs).  But that’s later.

For now, look through the gallery for pictures of process and completed painting.  I have an excessive amount of pictures because it looks so cool from different angles.  The different shades of blue didn’t show up much in the final photographs for some reason… but it’s visible in other pictures.

Khuwailah, The Queen of Swords

I have completed another painting in the An-Noor series.  I thought I was finished with this painting many times…I actually started writing this blog post a couple of weeks ago, and as I was writing it, it became really clear to me that it was incomplete.  Anyway, the subject is Khuwailah, a woman I met in Durham a few years ago.

While looking for inspiration for this painting, I looked through my deck of Tarot cards.  The deck is full of symbolic images (that’s kind of the whole point), and I picked out all of the images that spoke to me, and that included a female figure.  I found surprisingly few female cards (like 15 or 16 out of 78 cards).  Of those cards, there was one card that stood out to me, that connected to this particular subject… the Queen of Swords.

Her major characteristics are that she is “Honest, Astute, Forthright, Witty, and Experienced.”  As I read more into her character, I found that it was really a perfect fit.  But what do I do with this image?  I included a few visual references to it in my painting.

I have never photographed a painting thinking that it was done as many times as I did with this one.  Every time I took “the final picture” I would immediately see how I could improve it.  It was unusual, but I’m glad I didn’t just settle for it being done before it really was.  The biggest issue I had was to figure out what to paint through the window and how to paint it.  I originally planned to have some stylized clouds very similar to those on the tarot card, but they didn’t fit with the rest of the image, to me.  So then I just painted over them, but that was really boring.  It needed more magic.  Eventually I tried to channel some Bob Ross with the happy little clouds (and the trees that were there at one point, too).  I’m really really pleased with it, finally!

Check out the gallery to see pictures of the process, and a few of the different versions of this painting.


A couple more things about this painting:

The pattern:  I googled images of African patterns and textiles (my research methods are highly developed, clearly), and tried to get a good sense of what characteristics make them distinct.  I saw a lot of these concentric diamonds.  The pattern I ended up using (I design most of my patterns, but this one is honestly a bit of a knock-off of a rug I came across) is a more geometric and modern looking version of these concentric diamonds.  I struggled some with finding the right balance of colors in the background and pattern… so that they pattern was not distracting but still visible, harmonious with the figure and the window, etc.
Gothic Window with Foil Arches

The window: I love when paintings have windows in them… I particularly like when they have a whole painting inside of a painting, basically, with the scene outside of the window.  I wanted to give the sense that Khuwailah was sitting high up into the sky.  Anyhow, the structure/form of the window was derived from the windows on gothic churches and buildings.

Sophia – Completed painting and process

So I just finished another painting in the An-Noor series.  The subject is my friend Sophia, whom I love.  ❤

Her pose is a bit of a departure from the rest of the paintings I have done thus far, in that she is looking down, away from the camera.  Her strength, her light, shines brightly, but she illustrates a quieter strength than some of the other images.  I am really enjoying the way that the paintings in this project clearly fit together as a collection, share imagery and ideas, yet each individual painting is its own entity, and is born out of a conversation with the subject.

SYMBOLS:
There are some pretty obvious symbols in this image – her white coat, the American flag, and the stenciled pattern radiating out from her head.

Halo.  I’ve used halos in previous paintings, and will do so in future ones… Sophia’s halo was created with a design that suggests her Pakistani heritage.  It is pretty amazing how 2-D shapes can communicate this so effectively.  I looked at images of Pakistani and Indian textiles in order to create the stencil.  The halo, of course, is a representation of her inner light, her Noor.

American Flag.  The other symbol worth discussing is the American flag.  I went back and forth in my mind about using this… It’s an image that is everywhere.  Aesthetically, I love the way the flag looks…but what does it mean?  Does it represent an unquestioning patriotism?  A (blind?) devotion to the “American way,” to western values and culture, its wars?  Is it an image that is exclusive, that can only belong to those who conform to a narrow idea of what it means to be American?  Does it mean getting wasted on the Fourth of July while eating fried chicken and spitting watermelon seeds?  I never thought about the American flag that much, until September 11th.  In the days and weeks that followed, the flag was everywhere.  Painted on cars, on faces.  Plastered on t-shirts.  Waving in the wind, attached to cheap plastic sticks, or flagpoles reaching into the sky.  And when I saw these flags, I felt afraid.  Not defiant, or angry, or patriotic, just afraid.  I was young (15 years old), sure, but the stories I was hearing, of people, my friends, being told by strangers to “go back to your own country,” being spit on, shoved into lockers, the bomb threats at our mosque… that’s part of what that flag suddenly came to mean in those days.  But I love this country, I always have.  It is because I was born here, raised here, that I can make art the way that I do, that I have been able to find a unique path.  I guess I could talk about this for a while, what the flag means to me, but I’d rather not.  Alls I mean is, the American flag is not a one-dimensional or static symbol, but one that shifts, evolves, and is as dynamic as the peoples of this country.
So I decided to use it.  And it will show up again in another painting in the series.

PROCESS:
Once again I used acrylic paint and gold leaf.

Halo.
I created a stencil out of cardstock.  I used it to put down the pattern in yellow paint.

Picstitch of stencil

Picstitch of stencil

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Next, I painted on adhesive on top of the yellow paint, and applied the gold leaf.
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I fixed up the edges of the gold-leafed designs by really thinly tracing it with paint.  The innermost circle is the brightest yellow, and the outermost circle is the least saturated yellow.
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Finally I added a thin layer of gold paint around the pattern to kind of tie everything together a bit more and give it some more ambient light.

American Flag/Background.
Painting bricks = lots of layers.  I love bricks (painted some in Dina’s painting) because while it seems like it would be so simple, each brick is unique, and textured.  So I can add all sorts of colors into it.  Even with all the colors, when I had finished the bricks, I felt like it needed some roughing up… it was too flat and clean looking.  I considered using a crackle medium, but didn’t go that route.  Sooooo… I did a little experiment!!  I mixed the gold leaf adhesive with dish soap and water, and applied it to the background.  Basically, I figured that the dish soap would counteract the adhesive, so the gold leaf wouldn’t stick to every area… and give it a more random effect.  And it worked!!  I did a couple layers of this mixture around the blue area so I could have a greater concentration of gold there (to suggest the stars of the American flag).  It was a little bit distracting though, and was calling attention away from the focal points, so I painted over the gold leaf with thin layers so it shines through intermittently and is not quite so bright/reflective.  The result reminds me of distressed blue jeans.

Baby Pictures

Some pictures of my son, with scenes made out of cut paper and scotch tape… Props and costumes from the baby’s regular wardrobe.  Cheap, quick, and lots of fun.

Superbaby!  Four months old.


Mickey Mouse, Six months old.

Balloons, Seven months old.
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Arabian Nights, Nine months old.

Godzilla, One year old.

Nushmia – Completed Painting

About a month ago I wrote a post with images and info on a painting I was working on, particularly the inspiration behind the imagery.  And now, it’s done!!  Here are some pics of the completed painting, titled “Nushmia (Light upon light).”

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There were a number of different elements in this painting, and I tried lots of new things.

I found a great tool in the Sketchbook App for iPad, and was able to try out a bunch of different compositions, and using “Save As” to try lots of variations and then compare them.  Works much better than erasing holes into paper as I try different things, or redrawing the whole thing from scratch each time.  You can even sketch (or paint) by hand, take a picture of it, then manipulate it in different ways in the program.  AMAZING.  Saved me sooo much time, and allowed me to do a lot more pre-planning, which is essential when working in this size (and which is why I was actually able to meet a deadline this time!).  I use a stylus… and it’s not exactly like drawing by hand, but a great option.

The Olive Tree is a complex form.  Instead of just creating a simple tree trunk, there are different layers/limbs that are woven together to create the trunk of the tree, then spread out into branches.  In my original sketch for this painting, somehow I didn’t realize that a 6 foot tall canvas, while tall, is not tall enough for a full sized olive tree.

original sketch

So I had to scrap that and come up with a new composition.  To create the bark in the tree, I did a lot of layering.  I painted on base colors, then added “bark,” then painted over the “bark” to show 3-dimensionality, then painted the space between the bark… then realized that it was all very tedious and I wasn’t getting the results I was looking for.  So I did some research and decided to try a Crackle medium, often used on furniture or frames to give it an antique look.  Basically you paint a basecoat, put on the medium, wait a bit, then when you paint the top coat, it crackles and the base color shows through the cracks.


Looks a lot like bark, right?!  Except that it didn’t work at all.  So I messed around with it and found that if I painted over the crackle medium before it was dry, it would make the paint kind of mushy and peely… like nailpolish before it’s completely dry.  Tacky.  So I used crumpled up paper and roughed it up.  I think it turned out pretty good.  It didn’t save me time or effort like I was hoping, but it was nice to try something new.  It’s kind of hard to see exactly… but it adds some actual texture to the simulated texture.

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The leaves are just layered, somewhat translucent, flat forms, with silver glazed on top of the brightest layer.  I was thinking about adding more dimension into the leaves to make them more realistic, but I liked their flatness – they kind of provide a transition between the geometric patterned background and the organic form of the tree.

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For the Background, I created a stencil for the first time.  I looked into geometric designs, trying to find something that utilized stars (as opposed to florals).  The stars are yet another reference to “light,” and this image is also meant to be at night, so it works for that reason as well.  I used cardstock and an exacto blade to create the stencil (the picture is kind of crap, sorry), and would scotch tape it to whatever area I was working on.  I had to adjust it somewhat, because the symmetry was a bit off… and then had to do some touch-ups when it was on canvas.  The color of the stenciling is just a bit lighter than the background, and I squeezed in some metallic silver, so it is subtly reflective, as well.

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I had originally planned to do some fireflies in this painting, and use gold leaf for them.  But I tried it and it looked pretty dumb.  It was too sweet, if that makes sense.  I’m all for some magic in a painting, but it was kind of like I had painted in a unicorn.  Too much. I ended up just using the gold leaf in the olives.

Around this time, I realized I liked the painting better in the dark… so I painted over the gold leaf fireflies (easier said than done), and made a “shadow glaze” (basically a dark purple) and painted over the tree and the figure to make it darker.  Which worked remarkably well over the entire tree.  BUT THEN I RUINED HER FACE WITH IT OMG.  It was awful.  I mean, RUINED.  I had to white out the entire face and slowly layer it back.  It’s much more difficult to fix a face than it is to paint it right the first time.  Jeez.  I was convinced that I could never truly fix it.  In the past, whenever I’ve had to agonize over an area, particularly a face, even if I got it back to where it looked like the person again, the texture and colors would always look kind of… muddied.  The opposite of radiant.  Oy.  So I was worried.  It took a while to fix it, and I did weird things to the proportions of her face in the process, but eventually, finally, it came together.  I actually think it turned out better than it was before.

The Frame. So then I finished the whole thing… and I felt like something was really missing.  Some of that magic.  I knew the fireflies weren’t going to work, so I busted out my art history books and skimmed through it.  I decided to add the gold leafed archway/frame… it is reminiscent of some old christian frescoes, and even some renaissance paintings that would paint in arches/architectural forms.  Plus it connects this image to Amna Noor, the first painting in the An-Noor series:

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I designed the patterns with an Art Nouveau/filigree feel to them.  I drew it on in chalk, then painted over it, and cleaned up the chalk residue with q-tips.  I wanted to get a perfect mirror image of the pattern on the other corner of the frame, so I got some computer paper, traced the pattern, and went over it in sharpie (so that it would be visible when I flipped it over).  I flipped over the traced pattern on the other corner (a perfect mirror image!), and then traced over it again in pencil, putting enough pressure on it so that it created an indentation in the gold leaf underneath.  Here is a picstitch image of the stencil (on the left) and the mirrored pattern on the right.

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Here’s a gallery with images of sketches/the planning process, and the painting in different stages of completion.  I left out the whole “face is ruined” and firefly stages because I was too upset to even take pictures of it when it was like that.  So just use your imagination.  Maybe imagine some unicorns in there, too.

Rejection!

Getting rejected sucks.  After putting hours and hours of work into such a strange thing as art, we scramble to win one of the few opportunities to get our work shown, or to get some funding.  So we dole out the $35+ it costs to get someone to look at a picture of our art and tell us “no.”  Again, and again.

Rejection triggers self-reflection.  Why am I doing this?  Is it worth it?  Does it really matter?  I could just be focusing all of my energies on raising my son, instead of splitting time between him and scrambling to find time to paint, to write (to shower).  Do people even care to see paintings of American Muslim women, women who are diverse, who live here, and work alongside the rest of us; who are empowered, and passionate, and beautiful, and don’t all look the same or have the same story?  I mean, if I knew a bunch of sad women in burqas, that’s what I’d be painting.  But I don’t.  These are the women I know, and they are smart as hell, and they inspire me, and they clearly don’t need a bunch of entitled jerks to save them, or show them what being civilized looks like…and clearly, I think they are awesome.  Do we want to also hear of the women who flourish?  Do they matter?  If they aren’t “exotic”?  Do we care about them, since they don’t need us, since we can’t feel sorry for them (and as a result, somehow better about ourselves)?  I’m not trying to deny that many women struggle, and that these paintings do not represent every woman’s story, every American Muslim woman’s story, but there is space for multiple truths.

Isn’t there?

I’m fairly new at all this, at putting myself out there, at applying for grants and juried exhibitions.  And, really, I don’t think that I need to take these rejections personally, or think that it means I should change.  I think we’ve all heard that story, of a creative person who is rejected over and over again in their life.  And then they finally get that break, something finally works out, and we can’t even imagine why, how, anyone could have ever told them no.  But sometimes believing in myself is exhausting, and it all feels selfish and narcissistic.  Like I must be totally detached from reality, and really full of myself, to keep trying to make this work.

But I do… I keep trying.  And the bottom line, the absolute bottom line, is that I love what I do.  I love what I make.  And even if not one other person wanted to see my art, even if I don’t ever get grants, or into galleries… I want to look at it.  And I am terrible at, or hate, just about everything else anyway.  hahaha

On a lighter note, check out this photorrealistic sketch of my husband’s mutant feet.

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And yes, that says “green boa?” on the top left…
serious decisions.

The Evolution of Dina

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This is the largest painting I have completed to date (the third painting of the “An-Noor” series). It is six feet tall and four feet wide. I learned a lot through the process. In my sketches, I left a number of details unplanned (how exactly to deal with the negative space in the background, what is she sitting on?, what is that book in her lap?)… which would have been fine, except that it takes a lot of time (and paint) to try to figure these details out on the canvas. It took me three months to paint, and repaint, and repaint, this portrait.

If you scroll through the gallery, it is clear that I started out thinking that the painting would have a red background. This painting almost broke me in two. I remember looking at the layers of red in the around the sun and finally allowing myself to admit, “It’s beautiful, but it’s not right.” And I knew for sure that I had to paint over all those hours of work, that I had to redo the mess that I had made of the gold leaf. I may or may not have cried. Of course, immediately after doing so, I wondered if I was making a huge mistake. But it wasn’t a mistake. I had to trust my instincts, and push through it, and I love the final image. She is life-size-ish, and the gold leaf (my first time using this material) is f@*king brilliant. When I photographed it, it reflected the sunlight so strongly it hurt my eyes.

Dina is posed as Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter. I don’t want to go into great detail describing the imagery/symbolism in the spine of the book, or the sunflower… because I feel that it comes across? I would encourage you, however, to look closely at the spine of the book for some symbols of this woman and her power. Dina is a wonderful and inspiring woman. She grew up in North Carolina, and identifies with both her Southern and Egyptian roots. Who says collared greens and grape leaves don’t belong on the same plate? ❤

She will be hanging at the Carrack Modern Art this weekend for their last community show of 2012! Reception is this Friday.

Here is a gallery of pictures that shows the process (most are cellphone pics).

Barnard the Moose in “The Search for a Feeling”

A friend of ours gifted us with two enormous boxes of baby clothes, and basically has single-handedly clothed (and cloth-diapered) our child for the past six months.  Not to mention, I actually really like the clothes she gave us, so our kid looks super cool in his vintage duds.  I wanted to make her something to say thank you, so I found a picture of her son on Facebook and used it in a collage.  It was a small project that turned into something much bigger… and by the time I had finished the collage, it was pretty clear that it *needed* a story to go with it.  So here’s the collage, and the story that accompanies it… the story is directly derived from the image, so you can find all of the characters in the collage.  The whole project has some parallels to the larger painting series I’m working on, An-Noor.  Image

The sun broke through the earth.
Took a bright and hot breath
on the edge of the horizon,
And then got back to work, rising.
Skimming light across the fields of grass,
Casting long shadows,
Creeping up the sides of the houses,
Reaching its glittery arms through glass,
Into bedrooms,
And tickling the nose of one particular little boy
Tucked warmly into his bed.
A very special little boy,
named Aven.

Aven awoke
like a spark!
Straightened his tie
And put on his crown.
A sense of purpose
Setting his feet in motion,
As they made their way out
Into a wide open world
Full of magic.

He strode out into the crisp morning,
Walk-skip-running and walking again.
Leaves and twigs
Crunch-crunching, snap-snapping
Beneath his feet.

Aven played hide-and-seek
With the sun.
He, darting behind tree trunks.
She, slipping behind clouds.

When suddenly, Aven heard a whisper
in the grass,
Yet saw nothing there.
But wait!  Could it be?

Shadowcat.

Shadowcats are strange.
Sharp and precise dark edges
Shift into layers of imprecise grays,
And disappear.

She purred,
“Well, meow, Aven.
Fancy seeing you here.
What brings you out on this fine day
With such purpose in your eyes?
You see, I too am on a mission
Rustling up some fireflies!”

With that, a glowing orb rose from the tall grass,
And dispersed –
A dozen lighting bugs ablaze!
So illuminating that the shadowcat
Dissolved into the lightness.

They buzzed around Aven so fast,
Zips of light
Tugging on his collar,
His shirt-sleeves,
The hem of his pants.
As if to say,
“Hurry up!  Follow me!”

As he tried to wave away the glittering pests,
He heard the crystalline voice of the shadowcat:

“These sparkling creatures,
I must beseech you,
Treat them with some respect.
They neither bite nor sting,
What a wondrous thing,
In a buzzing and flying insect!

These insects of gold
Are oft foretold
To lead one in the right direction.
So don’t be smug
Put your trust in these bugs,
And you may soon
Make a friendly connection.”

The fiery flies flew
Through the woods.
One settled contentedly
On Aven’s crown,
Taking a much needed break from flying.

The lightning bugs teased
A tiny bronze elephant
Who stomped around in the grass,
Then watched them pass with a curious gaze.

“Chirp chirp, hello!”
A friendly little bluebird greeted them
From its perch atop a prickly bush of roses.

“Your eyes are blue
Just like my feathers!
And I can help you
To find your treasure!
What is it you seek, dear boy?”

Before Aven could answer,
The rosebush began to quiver.
Suddenly, suprisingly…

A moose?

His huge, golden antlers
Gleamed in the sunlight
As he shook off leaves and roses.

“Hi!  I’m Barnard!”
He said in his big, moosey voice.
Barnard flashed a wide grin,
Punctuated by a gold tooth.

“I’ve heard about you,
You must be Aven!
I can tell by your crown and your tie.
You see, me and Blue
Are very good luck,
And you seem like a pretty cool guy.

My antlers, they tell me things
That might be of use to you,
And they’re telling me something right now.
They say that next time the wind blows,
Watch where the leaves go,
And you will see something to make you say ‘wow!’”

Just as the words left Barnard’s mouth,
A breeze pushed its way through the woods,
Lifted high into the trees,
Urging leaves to leave their branches
And discover the joy of being free
To float,
And to fall.

Dozens of spheres
Copper and pink,
Defied gravity as they drifted
Toward a raven in the sky.
The bird flew with abandon,
And you’d never guess,
That this was his first time flying alone.

And it was when Aven
Saw the raven,
That he realized just what all this was about.

Aven had set out this morning
In search of a feeling
And now he knew just where find it.
With a “Thank you, Goodbye!”
He spun on his heel,
And off through the woods he winded.
Back home.

He saw her as he rounded the corner.
With a smile crinkling her eyes,
And her arms outstretched.

Mommy.

And this was what
He had been looking for,
This feeling…

The feeling of a hug.

Of a warm hand on your back
As you slip into sleep.

Of feeling, at once,
So big and so small.

Of falling gently
into the cushiony earth,
With loving arms around you.

The feeling of someone watching,
Keeping you safe,
So you can soar ever upward,
Gaze fixed on the sun.