I'd like to say that my paintings follow a logical sequence of steps; that an idea sparks in my mind and then I sketch it out and paint it and voila! Sometimes, yes, but that's not always how it is. Sometimes I feel like the painting is popping out of dark corners or sneaking up and tapping me on the shoulder and then darting off when I turn to see who it is. Sometimes it's hiding in the least likely places.
Bear Medicine was a painting that happened when I wasn't looking. I had been working with alcohol ink to get some abstract backgrounds. One thing I've learned is that nothing is ever wasted. Sometimes the ugliest “mistakes” can become the most interesting and useful things. But Bear Medicine didn't even start from a mistake. It started from overflow. When I use alcohol ink I place the papers on top of sheets of old drafting vellum so that the ink that flows over the sides won't stain the table below. At the end of my abstract afternoon I had a blotter sheet of overflow, that formed a paper towel smeared mess of ink around a rectangular shape where the Yupo paper I'd been working on had rested. Being resourceful, I tossed my blotter sheet on the scanner and took it into Photoshop, not really expecting much. What resulted from playing around with that became my abstract painting “Dreams of Flight”. Before "Dreams of Flight" was finished and I was still playing with different ideas in an other file, I found myself noticing two dark spots that looked like eyes, and another just below them that looked vaguely snout-like. My mind said “bear!” And that was all. It looked vaguely like a bear but I wasn't yet ready to delve deep and go into the cave to find that bear. I saved the file and put it away.
Months later, going through one of my scary, neurotic “I don't know what to paint, oh my gawd, what if my ideas are all gone??!! What if I don't remember HOW to paint???!!!!” stages, I decided that I needed to paint something, anything, just to trick me back into the flow! I went through my files because starting with a blank page at that point would have been paralyzing. I found the vague bear-like image. It wasn't meant to be a painting, merely an exercise to get me creating again. I thought it would be a few hours of painting exercise and then my mind would think of something cool and off I'd go to pursue the real painting. But something magical happened … the bear started to become a real bear. It grew fur and deep and all-knowing eyes. And the more it grew, the more I was compelled to stay with it. The temple shape at the top stopped being interesting to me and a starscape with my “pseudo-sacred” geometry drawings took it's place. In the end, all of the original bear was obscured except for the beads of the braids on his chin and the triangular shape between them.
Bear Medicine was precisely the medicine I needed in the moment. In many ancient cultures bear is seen as awakening the unconscious. It's the great healer. It embodies strength - all the things I needed to get past my creative impasse.
Life can be a little like Bear Medicine. Nothing seems to be working, then you see something and you poke at it ... just because. And suddenly one thing morphs into another and what you thought you were doing ceases to exist in the form it started out as. If we let it find its own way without force, it's usually better than anything we expected. Ink blots to bear ... not a bad outcome!