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Art and Eternity

20 Feb


My friend Linda tells me that there is a palpable feeling that exists around the works of the old masters. She says standing in front of a Caravaggio she felt a presence, a feeling. Another friend gets the shivers from Gustav Klimt’s, The Kiss. How is this possible? Is it the recognition of a perfect composition? The exact placement of paint on a flat surface that gets us? After all, it is just paint, a surface and light that gives us the experience. The painter is long gone. Or is s/he?

Does something of the painter stay after all?

In an article in the Kyoto Journal, Gunter Nitschke speaks to Ma, the Japanese concept of Place. In a beautifully written article, he opens up an understanding of place that is missing in western thought. The idea that place is not just about architecture or forms, but is inseparable from the potential relationships, feelings, intuitions that might happen in the space. Place is a combination of structure and the opening the structure creates. It is an ebb and a flow. It is as much about what happens in the space as in the space itself. It is about time, space, fullness, emptiness, potential.

When Ma is consciously included, it can become a unifying bond between the creator and the viewer. Ma is inclusive, relational. What is created is created to include the viewer. The viewer is seen as part of the creation itself. To me this is magical and wonderful. It also puts a responsibility on me as the viewer. Rather than just being careless and unconscious in my experiencing, I am called to participate. To be present to my experience. ‘Toko-no-ma’ is a display alcove in the traditional Japanese sitting room. In it is a floral arrangement or object of beauty, arranged by the host. This action of creation on the part of the host becomes a unifying force, an active thing – when it is met with an act of appreciation on the part of the guest.

Participation. Relationship. A feeling-state.The original character for Ma was composed of the ideogram for moon, 月, under the sign for gate 門. Closing my eyes, I am transported to an unspecified evening,  the sight of moonlight framed, enclosed, held by a garden gate.  I feel, in my imagination, that transaction that happens when objective facts, a gate and moonlight, magically become something far more, through my conscious observation. I participate with the gate when I add my feelings and life experience – ‘I’ flow in along with the moonlight.

The character for the moon is open at the bottom – 月. My mind wants to close it – to finish the pattern, so as to not leave it broken, hanging open. In a way it becomes the gate that allows me to enter into the space, to merge with it, and in this way become more than either human or gate. I think this is the relationship between creator and viewer. The artist creates the gate, the structure, existing in time, that provides an opening for our timeless experience to flow into. We transcend ourselves and for a moment, participate in eternity.

drawing the neolithic way

9 Jun janet balboa, Anam Cara detail, marker and colored pencil, c. 20014
janet balboa, Anam Cara detail, marker and colored pencil, c. 20014

janet balboa, Anam Cara detail, marker and colored pencil, c. 20014


These things always start off poorly. At this point I’m a bit panicky, because it looks more like a dessert rather than rock.  I stay with it, knowing that if I throw enough color at it, it will be fine. If in doubt, add more. (color, coffee, nutella…)


janet balboa, Anam Cara detail, marker and colored pencil, c. 20014

janet balboa, Anam Cara detail, marker and colored pencil, c. 20014

Getting the lines of ochre and sepia in, and the grey speckles. So far, everything in marker. The inner lines are outlined in black, so the point of this  is softening  up the black indentations and flattening them out visually. Nevermind the resemblance to  intestines. Or worse.


janet balboa, Anam Cara detail, marker and colored pencil, c. 20014

janet balboa, Anam Cara detail, marker and colored pencil, c. 20014


Now. Cover over the whole thing with a white pencil. rub most of the pencil off with a piece of kleenex. (beware the kleenex with the lotion!) then go back over the lightest bits with cream pencil. burnish again: if the kleenex isn’t ratty by now, push harder.


janet balboa, Anam Cara detail, marker and colored pencil, c. 20014

janet balboa, Anam Cara detail, marker and colored pencil, c. 20014


More colored pencil: Add in all those little veins with french grey 90%. Sienna, Light Umber. I speckled the entire thing with warm grey 90%. popped up the white with chinese white. I also added Rust(colored pencil) haphazardly across the top – partly because it gives a look of granite but mostly because I’m never really sure when something is done.

janet balboa, Anam Cara detail, marker and colored pencil, c. 20014

janet balboa, Anam Cara detail, marker and colored pencil, c. 20014

And there it is. A spiral cut into rock. Just like they did it in 10,000 BCE. ;)

Here it is in the overall picture:

janet balboa, Anam Cara detail, marker and colored pencil, c. 20014

janet balboa, Anam Cara detail, marker and colored pencil, c. 20014


Creative people…are also Innovative?!!

30 May

Are creativity and innovation really the same thing? Do creative people have inherent innovation ability? Well? Do we?

Best answers:


Creative people are like a dog with a bone. They refuse to let go of an idea. They mull over the problem at their workbench as well as in the most mundane places. They chew on it just as a dog chews on the same old bone for hours. And just as the dog guards the bone safely between its paws when not actively chewing it, creative people nurture an idea, even when not actively thinking about it. The true marks of creativity are:

1) an ability to sense which problems are likely to yield results and so are worth tackling,

2) confidence that you can solve the problems that you single out for solution, and

3) a dogged persistence that keeps you going when others would give up.

Creativity does not result from mysterious visions that come in dreams, or from fortuitous circumstances. Creativity and persistence are synonymous. Constantly thinking about the problem, consciously and unconsciously, maximizes the possibility that a chance occurrence is likely to be useful in solving it.  ~ Neurologist Richard Cytowic



It’s the age old difference between theory and practice. Creativity is having a unique, strategic idea for something — innovation is finding a tactical way to implement that idea and actually derive tangible, quantifiable benefit from it. A good idea doesn’t always translate into a feasible practice. JoeNatoli (User/Customer Experience (UX) Analyst & Consultant, Give Good UX)


Innovation requires creativity, but creativity alone does not lead to innovation. The difference between creativity and innovation is simply that creativity refers to the ability to generate new ideas while innovation is the ability to turn new ideas into reality. More often than not these attributes occur together as creative people are also very likely to be innovative. Creativity without innovation may never have any impact because only the latter ensures that new ideas are implemented. Matthias Rothkoegel (Founder & Owner, Engage Marketing)

Yes, yes we do! Whew!! Another feather for the cap…

My Muse wants me.

8 Mar


There is a lovely story told of Monet as he sat deep in thought in his garden. His neighbor looked over the fence at him and said “Ah, the life of the artist – all rest and repose.”   Monet looked up in surprise and replied “No, you see, I am hard at work now. It is when you see me finally painting that all the work has been done. This composing, the pulling what I see to the canvas, this is the work my friend.”

I say this because every time I start something new there is a nasty bit of time where frustration and impatience threaten to end my creation even before it begins.

Frustrated by the inevitable loss of something in the translation from feeling/experience to manifest image, I lose my connection.

Frustrated by the fact that I don’t see clearly enough, I lose my connection.

Frustrated that I am ‘wasting time’, I lose my connection.

Meanwhile, my Muse patiently picks at her gel nail tips waiting for my return to the task at hand. It’s  gonna happen. We know each other. We have a dance worked out.

I am greatly relieved to remember Monet and his understanding of the role of the artist in the attitude, preparation and conception of any creation. The necessary hard work which often deteriorates into courting, begging and flat –out threatening of the muse. My Muse, in addition to her traditional role as bringer of inspiration, has also taken on the admirable qualities of any good bartender/bouncer. She listens patiently, nods, encourages, yet will swiftly cut me off if I threaten unconsciousness. 14280-last-judgment-michelangelo-buonarrotiAncient muses were lovely, slender ethereal beings. Looking more like one of Michelangelo’s manly, robust gals, my muse is fully prepared and willing to kick my ass.  At first I was a bit put off by the tattoos and piercings, but I realize why she has had to toughen up.

We don’t take our muses seriously anymore. Only a century ago, Thoreau, Yeats, and Emerson walked endlessly across the countryside courting, pondering; thinking. Einstein takes a menial job so that he has time to think. Monet sits in the sun.

Time is a luxury. I know this. We say we don’t have the time. But time contains within it eternity. It takes only an instant for a sunset to move us to awe, the grateful look of a child can bring us to tears in a heartbeat, and lovers can show us the face of god.

Forget about time. I’m talking about attitude. Being open to the mystery, the awe, the wonder – Muses have always been irresistibly attracted to this type of human. If working out gets you into your creative grove, do it. If volunteering at your kid’s school gets your compassion going, be there. If having a glass of red and staring at a blank canvas gets you in the moment, do that. Cranking up the music on the drive home? Cooking gourmet dinners? Sitting in a garden? Do whatever it takes to show up.

Maybe art isn’t your thing. But if you are human, creativity is your thing. Your Muse is here. Waiting and a little impatient I might add. Tough gals now, appearing with sleeves rolled up and ready for work. Try to be there when she shows up.

So work it. Work the attitude. Spend time doing things that engage you with the mystery that is beyond, around, and within us all. If you can bring just one bit of that wonder and awe down here to earth, you have served us all well. Court the Muses, create space for their whisperings. (Yeah, unfortunately they still whisper. Seriously? Who whispers anymore?)

And if you don’t want to take my word for it, my other Muse whispers this:

It seems to me that it’s the work of poets and artists to know what the world-image of today is, and to render it as the old seers did theirs. The prophets rendered it as a manifestation of the transcendent principle. That’s what we lack today, really. I think poets and artists who speak of the mystery are rare. There’s been so much social criticism of our arts, which is just one facet. But the other function of the poet – that of opening the mystery dimension – has been, with few great exceptions, forgotten. I think that what we lack, really, isn’t science but poetry that reveals what the heart is ready to recognize. ~joseph campbell

We are here. Whatever the reason. Our only real job is to show up and be open to inspiration. We don’t get to choose to be inspired; it’s hard- wired into our nature. It has always chosen us. Let her find you ready to work when she comes.

Full Moon : the phases/faces of a woman’s life

25 May
Triple Goddess

prismacolour – markers and pencils. a few copic markers too. pen and ink outline. on my favorite- marker paper. it always amazes me how flimsy, yet strong this paper is! finished size is 12 x 17

Maiden, Mother,Crone!!

My celebration of the wise women on this planet who are entering the full flowering of their being.(In plain old english, those of us turning 50 and beyond) It’s a full moon today too, and I have just finished. How’s that for a little synchronicity? Have a inspiring, creative and fruitful day…


23 Feb

What do you do when a child of 14 ends her life?

What do you do as your daughter, in tears wonders and wished that she could have, might, have done something, anything, if only…if only she would have known, if they had been better friends…or what about the other kids at school, the kids that are well, different, she says kids are really mean to them. She tells me about a boy that was called horrible names that day at school.  ‘Mom?  Kids were teasing him- I could have stuck up for him…mom… I didn’t. Why didn’t I?’

My heart breaks, my heart aches for this girl that I didn’t know, breaks for her parents, for her family… they have nothing today but pain and unfathomable loss…my rage at the kids who bullied her because she was ‘different’. Really? Aren’t we all striving to be individuals? To make our mark by being different? Unique? Isn’t that a big message from our culture?

And yet, I have compassion for the pain, the suffering that these ‘bullies’ have- the no-inside, the lack of sacred space, of any kind of belief that life is precious, sacred. That they themselves are acting out of terrible pain. As my daughter points out- ‘we have all these anti-bullying talks and pep rallies. But they don’t work…’  She looks back over her brief 17 years and cites examples that she feels regret about, people that she could have been far nicer to, people she could have advocated for. I’m proud of her. I think this might be a choice point for her. For her life.

The one thing this other girl hasn’t got.


I’m angry, sad, confused.

I want to agree with my daughter, that this could have, should have been avoidable. When you think of people that die for their beliefs, I don’t typically think of 14 year old girls. But I can imagine some of those beliefs: I’m different. I don’t fit in. It isn’t worth it. Did she think any of these thoughts? I don’t know for sure.

But I am ashamed that this can, and does happen. In her obituary it states that she was a student, artist, singer, and master of the ukulele. Sounds like someone I would have liked to have known.

I have another website- The Journey. Art for Healing. It sits unattended. My husband asked me a couple weeks ago what I was doing with it. He wanted to post some picture of my art class’ artwork at Le Petit Marche where I staged a gallery display –opening and all for my class, a group of 7 – 11 year old budding artists. We had a huge turn out on opening night- much to the amazement and delight of these kids. These kids come to my house after school on Thursdays and we do art. This is the sign that is still up on the wall for that art display.

art class description.indd

 I do not want to fall into the knee-jerk reaction of “I have to DO something’. But I am already here. And I think I see a way to help. But I’d like to add practicality to my initial gut reaction.

I want to form a group. An Art for Healing group. At the high school level, where these kids need an advocate, a mentor, someone to encourage them in their uniqueness and someone to just be a friend.

As an artist, I believe that I can reach this group of kids who feel different, outside. I get them. I know what that feels like. I already teach, already had the intention of this business, Art for Healing, and now have an opportunity. Two years ago, I intentionally decided to not set up The Journey: Art for Healing as a nonprofit. But it is registered as a business.

 Where your talents and the need of the world intersect…there is your vocation.


So here I am. I’d really appreciate your comments/ideas/thoughts. I honestly don’t know what this could look like, or how it will practically come about. All I know is that there is a need here. And I am here.

Sacred Ground

20 Jul

I will be at Gallery in the Garden next weekend. It’s my first outdoor show.

I’m excited about this. A lot of my friends will be there-

I have no idea what to expect.

I think I have everything I need…business cards, tent, table, all the bits and pieces that make these things come together nicely. Rob, my husband is (thankfully) the organized one and has created a great display out of our blue camping canopy. It looks very nice. I’ll get pictures…


11 Jun

My finished work! I have a great deal of my work hanging at Le Petit Marche. We had a little celebratory party on Saturday -(thank you to everyone that stopped by!) Sarah Landon sang for us with her wonderful, lilting voice- it was a fabulous evening!

And A BIG SIGH OF RELIEF – I have no more unfinished artwork. Anywhere.

I shamelessly used this show as a big incentive to finish all my unfinished works- which not surprisingly for moi – master procrastinator – amounted to quite a few pieces of work. It is sooo nice having a clean slate (and house.) Frees my mind to focus on other things, like getting into the summer schedule again, more kids, more beach, less alone time. This is a hard adjustment for me for the first couple of weeks, but then it seems to open up and my creativity returns, infused with a curious newness. Everyone settles into a comfortable routine and life carries on more or less peacefully.

We are moving too, so living among, in and out of  boxes adds an aura of temporariness. It’s a short sale, so we will find out (hopefully) any day that we are up and out. Viewing this as an adventure. Repressed excitement kinda thing. Like trying to walk normally on quicksand or thin ice.

Paris, Pandora and paranoia

15 May

See how I jump around? Honestly. But I love this mermaid…I’ve wanted to do a picture of my oldest daughter Zoe, forever-and this is the one. So in between the Zinnia girl and the Green man popped this. I started her somewhere last week and am ready to color her in.

This pen and ink part is easy – just draw and outline like a coloring book. First in pencil, then a .25 and .35 rapidograph pen.  I had a Google image search for ‘reef fish’ on my computer screen for reference, and Pandora playing. Pandora is fabulous. A music genome project…google it. Welcome to a new addiction. Usually I draw to French café music- (I prefer background music where I do not get distracted by the lyrics, in this case, because I do not understand them.) I think French chanson also makes me feel very, well, un-Mid-western. Somehow it imparts a subtle aura of coolness which is not always present to the degree I’d like in suburban Illinois…add to this, in the afternoon, a glass of wine? Well, decadent…french coffee houses, art, Paris in the 1920’s….understandably, my Muse just binges on this. However, for reasons that I do not understand, this mermaid piece needed the support of ‘Upside Down radio’ which is a Pandora station based on the song by Jack Johnson. Hootie and the Blowfish, The Postal Service, Bob Marley- that kind of music. So that is what I’m listening to, and since it’s only 9am, no wine- I’m caffeinating however.

I am also stalling. Where it gets scary for me is now, when I begin to color in the portrait/face part. This always scares the hell out of me. Every time. Although I’ve done a million faces, it’s like I have no idea what I am doing. I have to look at other pictures I’ve done to convince myself that yes, I am capable of it. So I sit here now, very hesitant to start. I suppose it’s this excitement; the danger of messing up,  that makes me adore it and fear it so much. Eustress. What if I mess up? I will have to start again (with my microscopic attention span, this is a BIG deal) What if it looks nothing like her? What if …

Nike comes to mind as the only possible solution.

Just do it.

I pick up a marker.


10 May

psst…. I ran again this morning…only saying because this is sooo unusual. I feel so much better- usually I wait until the end of the day when I’m tired and ready for a glass of wine. So I am trying this new approach. The app is C25K – couch to 5k – and she tells me when to walk, when to jog…brilliant.

anyway… coffee in hand, I’m in my studio this morning needing to finish up my Green Man. It’s Rob’s birthday present, which is in a couple weeks. I originally set out to do a very simple piece- and as always, there is more in the wings than I expect. I was surprised at what showed up – I only saw the green man and the knot work border. It  says ‘you are love – you are loved’ around the circle, with a very fancy scroll/leafy background. These are the things that I do not see in the ‘planning’ stages. Which is why I suppose, I love to just start with a half-formed concept – because what I did not intend is often so lovely.

I was helping my daughter last night with a homework assignment- argumentative paper on overpopulation. Her main challenge is focusing- narrowing down such a broad topic to a very specific statement which she then can argue and to which she can propose a solution. She is a very creative type and kept coming up with new ideas, new realizations of what we are doing to our beautiful planet, and as the spirit took her and she got passionate about it, it became very difficult for her to niche down and limit herself to one narrow corridor of thought. ‘ There’s just so much to say about it…’ she sighed.

I mention this because I find in the ‘real’ world, one’s ability to be specific, set goals, have a plan, to niche down, to limit oneself – is expected and encouraged. But as I sit here, half in the ‘real’ world and half in the ‘other’ world, straddling both of my hemispheres, I am choosing to be influenced by something else. I am seeking, waiting for that which pulls me out of myself – that which allows me to see countless possibilities, infinite arrangements -the clamoring of the infinite for expression in finite. It’s such a dance- to be able to be ok with uncertainty, to allow overwhelm, to sit in complete wonder at ‘what is’ and to not want to change it, just to witness it. As artists, we are surrounded and influenced by our culture, and its attachment to ego and certainty. The two killers of creativity. As artists, we hold a position that is overlooked (by ourselves and by our society) in its importance. We hold the curtain back so that others may get a glimpse of that which is beyond- to build a bridge, to help others see what we see- to look with non-physical eyes at what exists beyond our limited perceptions. We allow infinity, mystery and uncertainty into this world. As Einstein is often paraphrased- you can’t solve a problem on the level it was created – it takes new ideas, fresh thought, and inspiration to bring something new into being. Part of my job with my students is to teach them that this uncertainty is a good thing; a necessary thing. That our culture and our souls desperately need inspiration – to be filled with fresh breath, to experience the mystery of life – in addition to our amazing ability to think, to limit and define. Both halves of our brains are necessary in the curiously human ability and purpose of endlessly creating  finite expressions of the infinite – whether an English paper, a decent cup of coffee or a work of art.

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