Odes to Nature

About a month ago I went to the opening of my first solo art show on Friday the 5th at The Blue Phoenix Cafe.  Downtown galleries open their doors till about 8:30 every first Friday of the month, celebrating the opening evening of new exhibits and the streets are busy with people getting together, chittering and chattering, around paintings, wine, cheese, fruit, and in the case of The Blue Phoenix, superb vegetarian fare like sushi, brown rice burgers, and hummus.

My show was a mixture of media: seven framed Giclee prints of creations made with leaves, berries, fungus, and other treasures that I find and look for on walkabouts here in the woods, and eight paintings in a mixture of watercolor, collage, and india ink. I called the show Odes to Nature & Other Wise and in spending the evening chatting with friends, family, acquaintances old and new I learned a little something that was at once obvious in retrospect yet also immediately surprising.

Specifically in conversation with a local acquaintance, he brought to my attention that my work reminded him of South Indian Folk Art, the eyes, the feeling, the expressions. And this was the pivotal point in turning my view, for while I know nothing about South Indian Folk Art, what immediately came to mind was this: when I first set out to discovering who they are, the seven earth ladies, initially my aunts came to the forefront as the heroines of the tales shown. From there the wives of Chandra, the Moon God: Bharani, Krittika, Rohini, Ardra, Anuradha, Revati, Chittra, Svati, and so on. I followed my instincts and kept going until haiku’s bespoke their personalities.

Now, this is where it got interesting, as I was ruminating on the South Indian Folk Art discussion, at first I thought perhaps he was picking up on the names and possible identities that had been swirling around in my head earlier but suddenly it came together:: an aha! a hand to the forehead moment! this realization:: I know South Indian Folk. How had I missed what was right under my nose? My maternal grandfather and many of his relatives migrated to Pakistan from South India, mainly Madras and Bangalore, during Partition, and the women of his family all are infused with this ‘look’ that I grew up around. In migrating, they carried over their South Indian style of dressing and talking and eating and doing things to Karachi: a mixed city of mostly migrants from places like Lucknow, Allahabad, Gujrat, Hyderabad, Delhi, Kashmir, and other flavors subcontinental.

The women wear kajal around their eyes, flowers in their hair, and are themselves living art. And they have woven their way into how I shaped this earthy series, which are odes to nature:: both of the earthly green kind and also the nature of the women who spun me round; giving me paint, pastel, dupattas, saris, and bangles to play with while they chatted, walking me home on scorching dusty streets from school when the cost of a rickshaw was too high yet turning the whole walk into such fun that it was how I wanted to go home instead of in a rickshaw, sharing gol gappas, jalebis, and faludas in the busy bazaars with sugar cane juice and falsaas, and then the conversations they’d have with the street folk, also folk art of their own kind, from hijras to one armed men on trolleys to displaced Afghan boys and girls selling marigold garlands, these women folk with heart have appeared in my art . . .

. . . as to South Indian or Not Indian or What’s Indian, does it matter? Maybe I’ll ask the hatter, in the meantime see whether you see the resemblance, which in the end is not localized to or about them in particular, but certainly a fusion of the women I’ve known. Women from many places, directions, times, walks of life, women from myth, fairy tale, legends, dreams; women come together infused, as revealed in community, with a mixed media South Indian Folksy flair.

I have prints available from this series at my Studio.

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Repurposing:: cookbook into paintbook

Making an art journal with a very old, much loved and used cookbook starts with one cookbook that has well-stitched pages and a tub of glue::I use mod podge and glue three pages together, then three more, then another three and leave them open to dry before moving on to the next lot.  Before gluing, I’ll tear out pages then go to the corresponding side and tear out the set that’s on that side of the stitchery, thinning the book this way as it tends to get bulky with time and collaging.  I like to get all my pages glued before beginning arting in books, but it’s not necessary and I know folks who glue as they go along instead.  I work on our dining table, which I keep covered with an old shower curtain.

After the glued pages are dry, I paint two pages at a time with white acrylic gesso, let them dry, then go through about six sets worth to start out.  Then I get to the fun parts::moving color around the pages, usually Jasper paints with me and we get some interesting undergrounds done together 🙂


Later I’ll go through them and pull designs out of the swirls, collage, or draw over them.

They sit like this until one day inspiration, energy, and time all come together, then I pull out the paintbook and begin adding in details, turning something of the above over into the below.

Make a paintbook and give it some color, it’s a whole juicy flow to painting your story . . .  . cookbook, picture book, board book, composition book, your kids old notebooks; any book is repurposeable once it’s lived it’s original/intended purpose, the one thing to look for is firm good quality paper and sturdy stitched bindings, then go, glue, paint, give a book new life and flow!  When finished give it a cover of your own to show 🙂

Pieces of Peace


When I participated in the World Peace Poet Project I hadn’t imagined I’d receive so many variations of poetry on the topic of peace and resistance, it was an eye opener and enjoyed by my entire family . . . the excitement of walking down to the mailbox to see whether any postcards had come, seeing what each one looked like, reading them aloud, discussing them, reading them aloud again, and in Layla’s case:: the joy of new stamps to add to her album.  It was a fun experience and somewhere in the middle I was inspired to paint a series depicting some of the themes that popped out and so it continued, a surprising turn from poetry to paint.  Above are the beginnings of the series and below are the ones I’ve decided are the pieces of peace that are ‘finished’ for the time being  . . .  maybe they’ll rest a spell 😉

art pages

inspiration comes from funny places,
like a newsletter
from my seaweed man with these words
resonating their way onto an art page.

three come falling
calling cards
fortune or fate
destiny dancing off a plate
how do you meet your meat?
how do you greet what you eat?

cold winter days and long nights,
the house is quiet early
the children go to bed soon after dark;
then I slip out
quiet as a mouse
play with paint, glue, recreate
for a spell.

imagining what may be dreamed . . .
love at first sight:
could it be
balloons and ice cream?

Spirit Dolls

shaggy The healing power of dolls came to me via my eldest daughter.  When she was 2 years old and my son a few months, we took a trip to Manhattan to visit my sister.  In a boutique one afternoon, filled with lovely handmade coats, clothes, and toys all displayed in a rainbow of color, she came to us with a golden bear that she had found under some racks and announced, “I need this doll”.  The doll went with us and along the way she stated that it was called Shaggy. At first  Shaggy was diapered, nursed, tinctured, bandaged, rocked, and sung to.  As the years rolled by, Shaggy was taken along on walks, shopping trips, bathed in the creeks, dressed up, and present for celebrations.  She’s now eight years old and gets tucked into bed, read a bedtime story, and no longer wears diapers.  Shaggy is Layla’s baby, her friend that has been with her through all the other baby’s that she’s had to share me with, going from only child and the sole recipient of all my attention and affection, to being one of four children.  Layla has other dolls that she plays with, story tells with, their names and roles change as needed to match the occasion, but Shaggy remains Shaggy and is nothing but Shaggy, a complete entity, holding all that Layla needs her to hold and releasing what she wants released.  She ‘needed’ that doll, not ‘wanted’ but needed; the doll had a purpose to fulfill.    This is the heart of a spirit doll.


Recently I visited a lady who showed me her doll room.  It’s a little lavender room in the corner of her house, with a bed and chairs, a glass case that stands floor to ceiling, and shelves, all completely filled with porcelain dolls in many shapes and sizes.  The walls are covered with photographs of her family in their baby stages.   When she was 34, her husband, who was her childhood sweetheart, died of a heart attack right before her eyes.  He left her a widow with three children, ages 5, 10, and 14.  This was 22 years ago.  She was devastated and found that the only way she could cope was by buying porcelain dolls.  They helped her with her loss, grief, and shock.  Five years ago her house, which her husband had built when they were newlyweds, burnt to the ground along with everything in it . . . . . except for the corner room with the dolls.  It remained untouched by the flames.  The dolls were black and covered in smoke, grime, soot, but she salvaged them and cleaned every one of them with a substance called Grease Lightening, and there they remain in the corner room of the rebuilt house.  These are her spirit dolls.

laySpirit dolls, as you can tell, do not have to be made by you.  Dolls have long since been an integral part of play.  Cloth, corn husk,  stick, clay, plastic, and porcelain dolls are some of the forms these figures can be made in.  No matter the material, a doll of any form is representative of some ‘thing’.  It holds an essence, a kernel, which needs a shape or a vessel to be-held in.  Any doll can serve as a spirit doll, but the making of a doll in of itself is also particularly healing.  It is a process that engages our senses, heart, hands, and mind at one time in the act of  creation.  Any time we are being creative, we are open, and openness is how we transform, grow, and engage; in our highest, most optimal way.  Through the journey of making our own spirit doll, we can heal if healing is needed, and looking within give shape and form to what we want to bring to light via the doll.


My mother, Layla, Ahmad, and I made spirit dolls together some months ago one night, and it was from that experience that the idea of holding a playshop emerged.  It was fun, it was meditative, it was inspiring, and I thought, “This is great, I want to do it again!  Maybe others want to give it a try . . . . .”  And so here we are with this playshop that I’ve put together.  It’s the first run, come and have some fun, after all as part of their origins, dolly’s are fun to play with, especially with others 🙂