Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Beneath Rebel Skies

I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce my niece Shannyn to all of you.  She's 17 years old and will be a Junior in high school next year.  She's a voracious reader, loves to read and loves books, and also loves to write.  Her dream and goal is to become a writer, as in an author, or screenwriter, or journalist.  She's been writing for several years, and I believe she's very good at it.  I totally support her in her excellent writing, and helped her to start her own writing blog a week ago.  Here's the link to her blog Shannyn's Writing and I also have a link to it on my blog, just scroll down to find it on the right side.

Today I'm featuring part of a story Shannyn wrote in the 8th grade, or two years ago.  When I read it, I was so impressed, I wanted to put it on my blog for the rest of you to enjoy, and also to give Shannyn's excellent writing some exposure.  She's excited about her new blog and I hope she posts her writing on a current and consistent basis.  I keep reminding her that if she wants to make her dream come true, it will take hard work and dedication and self-discipline.  I believe she's up to the task.  I also believe she has the "gift" of writing, and has worked hard to develop her gift and her skills.  I'm very proud of her.  

Her story starts below.  Please enjoy and feel free to leave any comments you may have if you'd like to.  I'm sure that would thrill Shannyn.

Andersonville concentration camp, Georgia, 1863: Ice cold rain pours through the musty train cars, packed with hundreds of men, as cattle brought to the slaughter. I shiver, the soldier standing beside me has a hacking cough, can’t stop. He sounds awful, like an old man, yet he cannot be over fourteen. I myself am but sixteen, though I have seen more in my short life than most have seen in fifty years of living. The air is rank with the scent of sweat and blood. My nostrils fill with the smell, though it is not half as bad as some, it makes my stomach swim. The train comes to an abrupt stop, lurching forward and sighs as an old farmer after a hard days work. Shouts and orders can be heard. A lowly Johnny Reb yanks the door open, revealing his bearded face. “Get outta the train, you filthy yankee dogs!” His young voice penetrates the thick air, arousing all prisoners, soon to be granted their fate. The great mass of bodies moves as one, making its way out of the train.

Frozen hard ground gives way to a demonic black sky. Lightning strikes, not a mile away. Thunder gives his answer with a resounding crack, which penetrates the wind blown atmosphere. Rain drops hit my tanned skin, as rocks upon a valley floor. The formerly beautiful sound of pouring water fills the air, soaking all that inhabit South Carolina in its unforgiving vengeance. “All right, you maggots, form ranks and prepare to march!” It was the young soldier again, perhaps informing his prisoners that he intended to provide them with everything terrible and evil. The mass of bodies moves a second time, with me somewhere in the middle, smashed and forgotten amidst such numbers. The sky wreaks her havoc upon the war torn ground and its occupants as all stagger towards their God given fate.

Finally arrived at the prison; Johnny Rebs shove us through the gateway, and into the camp. I suppose I simply expected something more, perhaps tents or quarters; yet there was nothing of the sort. Instead, sparse weeds littered the ground, as bones upon and ancient battlefield. Pushing their prisoners through, the Rebels shout orders to each other and let us be for the time being. I, along with many other Yankees, fall to the mire in exhaustion.

I awake the next morning to yells and groans. Morning dew soaks the already muddy ground, making it virtually impossible to navigate, ensnaring many in its boggy grasp. Coughing and hacking prevail through all other sounds, so many of my fellow soldiers sick from wounds or disease, cursing them in battle. Still, no shelters have been erected, no nourishment provided, despite the drenching rain and howling wind. This storm is unceasing, as if God is displeased with all the liquid falls upon. I wrap my uniform closer about my body, hoping it will keep me warm from the elements. Some men attempt to start fires near the wall, despite the pigeons nests atop, with Rebs sticking their noses out, awaiting an excuse to shoot someone. Their attempts are hindered by the weather, yet they continue their effort.

I, too deeply desire warmth. I spot three men huddled together, so I join their group, hoping for warmth and companionship. “Dang Johnny Rebs, they wouln’t stick thay own soldas in this God fersakin place.” Willy complained. He was in my regiment, though I never much liked him. “Ah, shut up Willy, I’m tryin ta git some shut eye.” This man I didn’t know, he was mighty tall, I could tell that from looking at him. The third soldier didn’t make a sound, just sat there shivering, his dark eyes observing their gloomy surroundings, as a hawk on the hunt.

“Git up, yank, no time fer sleep at this hea place.” “Ohhh.” I groaned, he had kicked me in the ribs, as if I was a dog that needed discipline. “I said git up!” The Reb made a second attempt to injure me, bringing his foot back; I managed to dodge it. He cursed at me and sauntered off as I tried to adjust my eyes to the bright light. It had stormed for three days straight, never letting up. Yet today it was surprisingly hot. The bright sun hung in the sky, her eyes full and watchful as those below made their way about the earth. I wonder what she thought of our circumstance, if she cared or thought about us at all. Her gaze pierced the cloudless sky and shone upon my darkened skin. I saw the three men I had met two days before near the wall, constructing a lean to out of spare wood for reprieve from the sweltering heat. I moseyed over to them, hoping again for conversation.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

2nd Part of Big Reveal -- Heather's piece

I decided to post Heather Robinson's piece from our collaboration project on my blog. My piece, and my explanation of our project, are posted below. Heather sent me her beautiful background on stretched canvas. The colors were so yummy and soothing, it inspired me to do a nature theme on it.. I love doing nature themes. As you can see, our pieces ended up very different, but I think they are both beautiful. Our project was very successful.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Big Reveal of 2nd Collab Project

I'm so thrilled to be able to post this beautiful art work. This is my second collaboration project of this type. My dear friend Heather Robinson and I teamed up to put our hearts and minds together to create this piece. One I am in love with, I don't mind saying, and I'm so excited and grateful that it's MINE ALL MINE!!! This arrived in the mail last week, and I've been admiring it ever since.

The first picture is of the background I made on this 8x10 inch piece, done on thick piece of chipboard. Then I mailed it to Heather for her to work her artistic magic on it. And so she did, and I'm in awe of what she turned this piece into.  The second picture is what it looks like now.  I totally LOVE what she did, and the result of our heartfelt collaboration. She made her background on stretched canvas, and sent it to me, and I did my part on that and sent it back to her. From what she told me, she loves her piece too. We chose to synchronize our blog posts of "The Big Reveal", so you can click on her name above to see her piece, and what I did on that.

I'm happy to post the before and after pictures here of my piece. Because it shows how Heather transformed my background into a totally different work of art, by using what I did as a jumping off point. One that never would've happened or been created if we hadn't done this together, as a collaboration. And I did the same with her background. I was oh so excited when this arrived in the mail, and I could finally see how she chose to complete this piece. I kept wondering and guessing in my mind, but had no clue what she was doing on it. Once I opened it, I was in heaven, and at peace. Because this was perfect, and meant to be, and far exceeded any expectations I had.

I realized that she finished this piece in a way I never would have, meaning it never would've occurred to me to do what she did, not in a million years. Because we are two different and individual artists. One interesting and even surprising thing about this collab effort is that although Heather and I have the greatest respect for each other's art, we both admit that our art and art styles are very different, indeed almost opposite. She uses a lot of vintage images and text in her art, whereas I rarely do. My art style is more raw and unexpected and unconventional, and hers is more refined and elegant and generally conveys a message. Initially, this was a bit of a concern to us, that our art styles are so very different.

In the beginning, I think both of us, secretly and privately, felt like we had to reach for the "middle ground", and try to make art more like the other person's style. But over time, in a number of wonderfully honest  and vulnerable emails, we expressed our thoughts and feelings about this, and realized the goal was not to meet in the middle, or compromise our own art styles, but to make our own art in our own styles, and be true to ourselves. Once we established that and agreed, we felt freedom and excitement and anticipation at what the other would do on our backgrounds. That made it so much more interesting and exciting, knowing that our art styles were so different, but that we could still be true to ourselves.

Heather and I were online acquaintances and friendly before we embarked on this collab effort. But in the process of doing this, we became true friends and got to know each other much better, in a much deeper way. Our friendship grew and blossomed, because we shared our true thoughts and feelings about our art and ourselves and this whole process and collab effort. Now we have a wonderful and special friendship that we intend to maintain, that we both appreciate so much. And I don't think that would've happened if we hadn't embarked on this venture and adventure, and both said an unqualified YES to it, even though we both had some underlying fears and concerns.  I am just so grateful that Heather and I agreed to do this project. Grateful for the awesome, beautiful art piece I ended up with....but even more grateful for the friendship and connection we developed, which to me is the real prize!!! Thank you so very much dear Heather, for this awesome art piece, and even more so for your friendship.

I have to shout out to the world -- MISSION ACCOMPLISHED -- beyond my hopes or expectations, regarding this collab effort. And I also have to say that the same thing happened in my first collab effort, with Mary Schweitzer. Click on her name to see my finished piece from her. Mary and I also became friends as a result of our collab effort. Gee, it's funny how that happens. No, not really. I think it's the extra bonus, the special gift, of doing this kind of cooperative venture and adventure with another artist.

So as you might expect or understand, I'm very big on doing the collab thing right now. It's rather a life changing experience, as a person and artist. At least it has been for me and for Heather, as she told me that. I see it as the next step of my art journey, and life journey. And it's not like I sat around and thought about it, about doing collab projects, before the idea came to me last summer. Because it just popped into my head, out of nowhere, totally unexpected. And I just went with it, and invited Mary and Heather to jump in and go with it too. I simply did it on impulse, and am so happy and grateful I did and they did. (Because sometimes when I do things on impulse, well the outcome isn't so great, LOL.)

For those of you artists out there reading this, I totally encourage you to jump in and do a similar collab effort, for the first time. At least try it once, but most likely if you do, you'll want to do more than one. (I've got two more going right now.) I am very fortunate to have a local art group here in Denver metro that meets once a month, and I totally love it. But many of you don't have that. And so I know, you make your art alone at home. Yes, you may belong to great yahoo groups and visit blogs, and know a lot of artists online as acquaintances, but when it comes to online art friendships, and really connecting with other artists, do you have that? Well if so, that's wonderful. If not, and you'd like to have that, then you might need to reach out and take the initiative, and propose a collab effort with another artist. The most likely by-product of that will be friendship and a beautiful piece of art.  And gee, if they should turn you down for whatever reason, that's okay.  Just know there are other artists out there who would love to do this and would say YES!

I don't know, maybe I'm trying to start a movement here. My muse hasn't confessed to me if that's what she's up to or not. I just know doing a collab effort is a very special thing, with so many positive benefits. It's a challenge, a growth experience, a cooperative experience -- that isn't available doing art alone. It's a totally different experience, and a positive step forward in my opinion, in the art journey. It requires trust, cooperation, communication, vulnerability....all things that build friendship.  All things that may not be easy, but the rewards make it totally worth it, in my opinion.

Well, I hope I didn't go on too long here, but this means a lot to me. Not only in my own collab efforts and experiences, but in my hope that YOU out there will try this also, and reap the wonderful rewards and benefits I have. So yes, I'm trying to start a Collab Movement here.   I'm wondering, what is the next step in this MOVEMENT?  Perhaps the sky is the limit.