Tanjore- ummm sure.

Tanjore painting is really hard.  There are lots of steps and you need lots of patience to create one.  I took a Tanjore class in Chennai for about 6 weeks and I didn’t even finish.  I can see how this art is looked on with great respect.  Everything about the painting needs to be perfect from the very beginning.  I spent hours on this painting and I didn’t even get to the painting part.  I have my work, and will finish one of these days.  This style of painting is still practiced, but they are very time consuming and it takes professional artists hours and hours of painstaking skill to create one that is masterful and full of beauty.  My teacher’s work was amazing.  You could instantly see that his work was of high value and really special.  His paintings were also four times as big as the small one I didn’t finish.

At times when I was working on this I thought it was really labor intensive, but I had to remember it was also meditative.  You could do nothing but focus on what task you were doing.  You had to pay attention to only that part, or else you would probably make a mistake.  Oh– and I made plenty.  Some days I was there for 4 hours working on the placement of the stones, or putting on extra putty to make them stick.  By the end of the class I felt like my back was stiff, my arms were stiff, and my fingers were going to fall off!

But I still worked at it, it was a great challenge for me to undertake, just so I could see what it was like to create such a piece.

I also met some great people along the way.  The arts center was a fun place.  At the times I was there, I always talked with the other students and teachers.  It was a great environment to be a part of and I thoroughly enjoyed working there.

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Start with an image and a board.
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This board has already been prepared for me, lots of primer and several pieces of muslin. You have to measure a border, which is actually a common practice in school too.
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Here is what the back looks like.
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You draw an image on tracing paper and then transfer it to the board. Things need to line up or else something will be cut off later.
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After the image is transferred you begin adding stones. I added too many in the middle.
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Then you cover them with muck. It adheres to the board.
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With the muck, you also build up other areas to create a relief on the surface before the next steps.
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And then you add more muck.
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Then you can add some more decorative stones on top of the muck to had added height and of course – fanciness.
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You can get elaborate, but you don’t want it to be garish.
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Here’s a different view.
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Next it’s all about the gold leaf. Yes, there is real gold in there, so don’t waste it.
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This is a stressful part, because you have to cover all the areas well.
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Once you have all the areas covered, you begin cleaning off the stones and cutting away the excess
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You keep working on removing the excess.
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And keep working on removing the excess.

I just realized, I don’t have a picture of the rest of the steps. I’ll have to post a finished piece when I have it finally completed.  As you can see, there is a lot of work that goes on in creating a Tanjore painting.  It is a dying art and it’s hard to find masters that can teach you the proper steps.  It isn’t to be rushed, you can’t finish this kind of piece in a few hours, and it takes time to perfect.  I was glad to have the experience and to understand how much work it takes to complete just a small one.

The other people who were in this class with me were creating pictures for their homes.  People who create paintings such as this have great respect for the art, but also the art serves as a function for people who practice Hindusim, it is a blessing to have one of these paintings in your home.  As you may guess, there are popular images.  Many of Ganesh, like my example, but also Krishna, Durga, Rama and Sita, and others.

Auto rickshaw drivers, the ultimate symbol of adjusting and overcoming

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When moving to India, one of the first things that come to mind is the traffic. You hear stories about how the streets are clogged with all sorts of transportation, inclusive of pedestrians and animals with all the modes that come with them. It’s a barrage of sensations when you take your first ride through traffic. The honking, the jerky movements that ebb and flow with each corner. There is also the passing, the abrupt stops and the very many bumps you hit along the way. It’s a lot to take in. Since I’ve been in Chennai, all I do is ride in autos. That’s my main mode of transportation, except for my feet. It’s not exactly the cheapest way to get around, but it does get me there fast and amazingly safe and comfortably.

I’ve probably ridden in 64 autos. I’ve had the same driver twice. By the time I leave India I could potentially ride in almost 400 different autos. The one thing I’ve picked up on with the drivers is their intensity. It doesn’t matter how they drive the auto. They can be aggressive, assertive, or even relaxed. Anyway you have it, they’re still focused. They have to be. Everyday I come with in centimeters, no millimeters of the person next to me. Sometimes, I think, there is no way he can get out of this one. But he does.

These drivers know their vehicles. They know how much pressure to put on the brake and how much gas to give. I have to tell you, I often get a little nervous for the open road because it’s the pedal to the metal for these guys. They see an open road and all of a sudden you feel the wind whipping through your hair, you’re looking for something to hold on to, you grab tighter to your belonging….. Then you realize- you’re really only going 35 miles an hour. It’s a sense of awe, freedom, and the ultimate thrill ride!

Drivers pay attention here, such minute attention to everything around them , that they’ll call out to someone to “Move over”, or “Watch it”, or ”Put your lights on”. Once I even understood that my driver was telling a driver in a car that his door was open, and another auto driver that he was about to lose his sandal. There are hand signals, there are waves, horn beeps to communicate with other drivers and pedestrians. There’s also a lot of giving directions. Many times I have witnessed a brotherhood of auto drivers actually helping out one another (particularly the younger ones) with directions or maybe explaining which roads to avoid. There is a strong camaraderie, to a certain extent.

Let’s get back to their nerves of steel and being able to adjust and overcome. Not only do massive amounts of drivers know the ins and outs of the different parts of the city, they’re focused on the streets themselves. Just this morning I was noticing the eyes of my auto-driver.   His eyes were wide open, awake and focused. He appeared to be very vigilant in watching almost everything that was happening right before him. He knew how to gauge slowing down and when to pass. How does he remain so steadfast and aware? What does he do to train the brain to stay so aware?   Driving is a learned skill, but to drive like this is even more specialized.

I’ve met old drivers and young drivers and the things they seem to have in common is the ability to know when and how to adjust their driving. They don’t seem to hold on to near misses and slamming to a screeching halt. They don’t seem to even worry when they are within millimeters of an object or person. It just is. They adjust. They do what they need to do to get me to my location, but they have to be flexible in how they get me there. No one can really predict the quality of the road, the amount of people who are using the roads, or what other obstacles get in the way (cows). He knows he has a job to do, and he will do it.

We can learn a lot from sitting in auto rickshaws. And I’m pretty sure someone has already studied the mindset of an auto driver, but one thing I can tell you, it’s not just know the roads, and being able to maneuver around all the obstacles that get in the way all day and everyday, it’s the focus and intensity they bring to their job. At times they too must feel that they are so in it. Is there a perfect ride for an auto driver? Is there a certain feeling they get from getting some from point A to point B? Or are they not really attached to the outcome? Do they just do what they need to do? Are they focused on the present, and being in the moment?

Either way, I’ve gotten used the auto. No matter what, I usually really enjoy riding in them. Everyday I thank my driver and I’m truly amazed that he navigates his way from where I work to where I live safely and seemingly undisturbed from the experience. Yes, they have a job to do, but I think in a way they are teaching me that you can find challenges everywhere in life, but you always have to adjust and overcome.

Creative Connections Week 2

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Winter Trees, mixed media, 2015

Students began week two of my art and yoga program called “Creative Connections”.  The focus pose of the week was vrkasana, or tree pose.  It’s always a favorite, and everyone seems to know this pose no matter what.  This group was no exception and was very open to learning more about balance when we practiced yoga.

Why is vrkasana, or tree pose important?

Tree pose is a really good pose for a lot of reasons, but I think the main reason is because it allows us to practice a lot of different things within one pose.  We have to be patient, focused, and steady.  If we’re not, our body definitely lets us know because we may lose our balance.

Patience:  tolerance, acceptance, self-restraint.  Vrkasana requires a bit of determination. But it’s also about slowing down and being purposeful with your practice.  It’s not necessary to quickly pop up into tree. It’s important to slow down, notice what you feel, and adjust to make sure you’re not over doing it.  We may know how to do tree pose already and feel like we can balance, however, what knowledge do you lose by not taking your time and being mindful of how you got there?

Being patient also means accepting where you’re at.  Have you ever noticed how you feel when you do tree on the opposite leg?  Well, it may feel different, or you may not feel at ease on one side.  It’s ok, notice what you feel, accept that one side is different from the other and breathe.

Having tolerance is also an important part of vrkasana and all throughout yoga.  Yoga allows us to practice tolerance by being willing to participate.  There may be a time when your mind is sending you all kinds of messages to stop what you’re doing.  Coming back to your breath and realizing that it’s just tree pose, remind yourself it’s temporary, you will come out of the pose and move on to something else.  If you’re uncomfortable in tree pose, notice what you notice, be willing to adjust and practice what you can, knowing that the pose is there to teach you something about yourself.  Balancing is an action, and if you’re in the act of being in tree or falling out of it, it’s all part of the pose and the practice of yoga.

Focus:  centered attention.  Ok, I’ll admit it.  This is a hard one.  I like to look around the room and see what’s going on with everyone, just like the rest of us.  I get interested in what others are doing, I get distracted by noises and what’s going on in the environment.  It’s hard sometimes to be mindful only about yourself, because we care about so many other things.  Some of those things are even thoughts that keep us from focusing on our yoga.  So the next time you notice yourself looking or thinking, check yourself.  All you have to do is notice, call it what it is, and come back to the breath.  This focus can allow us to do really amazing stuff, not just balance on one foot on our mats.

Steady: stable, constant, unchanging.  When we first learned about steadiness, we talked about tadasana,”mountain pose”.  The reason why we started there was to use the simple act of standing to physically feel a connection with the surface beneath our feet.  We actively paid attention to how we were standing and grounded down through to bottoms of our feet so we could feel the whole foot on the floor.  In this way, we created a stable structure to build from.  When moving from your foundation of tadasana to vrkasana we still need to feel that constant to be able to balance on one foot.  To do that, we root down through our one foot, and actively pay attention from the ground up to the top of our head.  In any yoga pose you’re not only noticing your steadiness in the physical pose, but also your breath and in your thoughts.  Notice when your breath changes, or if thoughts come into your mind when you practice.  If it happens, just remind yourself to breathe, and come back to that.

At some point you may notice that practicing yoga mirrors what is going on in your life.  If you take some time to reflect on your practice you can use yoga as a tool to develop self awareness and to give yourself greater insight about the world around you.  Yoga has so many benefits, but the best benefit is that it’s for you.

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Ms. Fitz practicing vrkasana, tree pose.

Art is Mindful

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Have you ever been so focused on doing something that time fades away?  You were so focused that you didn’t even pay attention to what was happening around you because all that mattered was what was in front of you?  In yoga that’s called “dharana”.  Dharana basically means intense focus.

It is so hard to bring our attention to just one thing at a time.  In fact, we’re constantly being asked to multitask, apply our knowledge in different ways, and pay attention to a lot of different kinds of stimuli though out our entire day.  That’s a lot for our brains to handle, don’t you think?  Our brains can truly only handle one thing at a time.  It learns to makes decisions quickly, so it may seem like we’re multitasking, but really we’re not.  Yoga is the perfect counterbalance to the fast paced world we live in because most of us actually do crave time to slow down, but often we don’t know how to or know how simple it can be.  The simple answer?  Just practice.

How?  First think about how you already practice concentration (Dharana).  Do you take time to read or do school work?  That is concentrating.  You have to put your focus on only on thing and not think of anything else to understand what you’re reading so you can remember it.   It’s the same with yoga.  To balance on one foot, you must put your concentration and focus into that action.  Nothing else.  In that moment of balance you are entirely focused and mindful at what you are doing instead of multitasking.  If you don’t, you will fall out of the pose and lose balance.

To build strong concentration, or dharana, you have to practice ways that enable you to focus on one thing.  For some that might mean taking yoga classes, reading a book, or going for a run, but it can also mean making art.

Why is art mindful? Well, it’s meditative.  Art is a creative exercise that can strengthen your concentration muscles.  Instead of splitting your attention between tasks you are only focusing on one activity at a time.  The idea is that you don’t even really think about what you’re doing, you’re just trying to pay attention to what feels right.  Your focus is what is in front of you and happening in the moment.  You’re tuning out the environment around you, tuning down the awareness of influences, and maybe not even noticing sensations that come up.  It’s kind of feel like having tunnel vision, except you benefit from it.

It can be really fresh and enjoyable to focus on one thing at a time.  After practicing a few times you may notice that you feel more in tune with yourself, you may actually be more self aware, and also use less energy for the same tasks you do each day.  Have you ever felt drained or even more scattered after you’ve had to fulfill many tasks right after another?

It can be challenging to disconnect with the world around you, but remember it takes time.  The challenge is what makes the concentration muscles stronger.  The more you practice the more you will realize what is important to you and how it’s important.  The chatter , the things that pop up by surprise, and even the extra things you would like to ignore in your environment will become less intrusive.  You may even find that what you pay attention to shifts.

So make your art a dharana practice.  See if you can focus your attention to one thing.  Even if it’s a for a short time, it’s a practice.  And it’s the practice that matters.

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