Quote for Today: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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These examples suggest what one needs to learn to control attention. In principle any skill or discipline one can master on one’s own will serve: meditation and prayer if one is so inclined; exercise, aerobics, martial arts for those who prefer concentrating on physical skills. Any specialization or expertise that one finds enjoyable and where one can improve one’s knowledge over time. The important thing, however, is the attitude toward these disciplines. If one prays in order to be holy, or exercises to develop strong pectoral muscles, or learns to be knowledgeable, then a great deal of the benefit is lost. The important thing is to enjoy the activity for its own sake, and to know that what matters is not the result, but the control one is acquiring over one’s attention.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life

Image © Mr. Yoga with CCLicense

Quote for Today: Zhuangzi

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A beam or pillar can be used to batter down a city wall, but it is no good for stopping up a little hole – this refers to a difference in function. Thoroughbreds like Qiji and Hualiu could gallop a thousand li in one day, but when it came to catching rats they were no match for the wildcat or the weasel – this refers to a difference in skill. The horned owl catches fleas at night and can spot the tip of a hair, but when daylight comes, no matter how wide it opens its eyes, it cannot see a mound or a hill – this refers to a difference in nature. Now do you say, that you are going to make Right your master and do away with Wrong, or make Order your master and do away with Disorder? If you do, then you have not understood the principle of heaven and earth or the nature of the ten thousand things. This is like saying that you are going to make Heaven your master and do away with Earth, or make Yin your master and do away with Yang.
―Zhuangzi, The Complete Works
Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Floating on Water: The Medieval Art of Ebru

Traditional art forms remain astounding and disarmingly beautiful in an era dominated by technology. What makes this art so beguiling?

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Ebru, a form of paper marbling, is an ancient art that originated in the 15th century in central Asia. Europeans first encountered it in Istanbul and were mesmerized by it. If you have seen old books with marbled beginning and end papers like the one above, you have seen ebru.  Ebru, or abri, can be translated as cloudy or colorful (paper), depending on whether or not you translate the word from Persian or Turkish sources. In Iran it is called abr-o-bâd, or cloud and wind. The video below, an advertisement made for a class at American Islamic College in Chicago by artist Garip Ay, makes it easy to see why people have been so enraptured by this art.

Ay was born in 1984 in Siirt, Turkey and studied painting at the High School of Fine Arts in Diyarbakir. He then pursued and graduated with a degree in Traditional Turkish Arts from Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul. This video shows him working in a more traditional style, but he has made a name for himself by melding the techniques and materials of modern painting and ebru. You can see more of his lovely work on his blog. Evolution keeps the form alive.

Long before Europeans made ebru a status symbol for the wealthy and educated of Europe, this decorative paper began as the background to important official state documents throughout central Asia. This developed not, at first, in celebration of its beauty, but as an anti-counterfeit measure. When artists discovered its potential, ebru became an incredible outlet for creativity. As it grew in imagination and color, it was used as a background for poetry and scripture, written in the graceful legato of calligraphy. Some designs were complicated enough to stand on their own in the style of paintings. Ay and artists like him are continuing to blur the line between painting and ebru.

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“This calligraphic fragment includes two bayts (verses) of poetry that describe the desire of unidentified antagonists to break or humble the beloved: “They want to break the wild-eyed / They want to break the black-eyelashed / They want to break the heart from the spirit / They want to break the objects of beauty.” In these verses with repetitive phrasing, the beloved ones or objects of beauty—the kajkulahan (literally, the “ones wearing crooked helmets,”)—are the target of violence and animosity. Written in black Nasta’liq script on orange paper decorated with light-gold sprinkles, the text is provided with a gold frame and is pasted onto a blue-and-white abri or ebru (marbled) paper strengthened with cardboard. The fragment is neither signed nor dated, but the script and the marble paper suggest that it may have been produced in Iran or India during the 16th–17th centuries.”

The current Turkish tradition of ebru was developed by a branch of the Naqshbandi Sufi order. These Sufis, Sunni Muslims exploring the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam, saw their art as a form of meditation and passed it on to their followers. The process of floating paint on treated water to make beautiful papers and artwork requires discipline, skill and intense concentration. Keeping mind and body focused on producing beauty allows for spiritual growth.

Gum tragacanth, a paste obtained from the sap of several Middle Eastern legumes, is mixed into a shallow pan of water, making the water thick and sticky. Natural pigments are mixed with ox bile to create paint, which is splattered onto the surface of the water with horsehair brushes. The ox bile, or gall, not only keeps the dye floating, but makes the colors spread and keeps them from blending together. Paint can also be applied in a more controlled fashion with sticks made from rosewood. The floating colors can be manipulated with these rosewood sticks, with combs or with the breath. After a pattern is finished, a piece of acid free, unlacquered paper is laid lightly on top of the design. The design is thus transferred to the paper, making a one of a kind print, or monotype. Ebru requires a gentle touch, as well as a mind open to the movement of paint and water, which produce unexpected patterns. The artist must know when to shape the design and when to accept the direction it has chosen for itself.

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The value of ebru lies not only in the beauty of the product, but in the process itself. There is not yet a computer that would have the dexterity or imagination required. Even more valuable is the effect of such a process on the mind, engendering patience, gentleness and a respect for beauty, color and imagination. These are things that our world needs desperately.

 

 

Images and videos: 1) Public Domain Image via Wikimedia.  2) Video via AICUSA. 3) Public Domain Image via Wikimedia. 4) Image © Ji-Elle with CCLicense

 

Quote for Today: Bree Loewen

Summit of the Dom, Pennine Alps, Switzerland

Summit of the Dom, Pennine Alps, Switzerland
© madmat8000 with CCLicense

During my three seasons at Mount Rainier I learned a lot about mountain climbing and rescues, about politics and camaraderie in the mountains, and about what being a woman climber means. Now I know in all certainty when to bring my toothbrush and when to leave it at home, and, all things considered, that kind of confidence is hard to come by. The greatest skill I ever had, though, was the one I started with: being able to suffer for long periods of time and not die. In exchange, I got to see some amazing things.

Quote for Today: Audre Lorde

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are black, who are older – know that survival is not an academic skill… For the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house. They will never allow us to bring about genuine change.

Sensuality of Texture: Geology of Shoes

Machines are so essential to daily life that we often fail to appreciate what we can make with our hands.

Statue of a Cordwainer in Watling Street, London Image © Metro Centric with CCLicense

Statue of a Cordwainer in Watling Street, London
Image © Metro Centric with CCLicense

A cordwainer is a person that fashions luxury footwear from soft leather by hand, designing, cutting and shaping shoes into objects of beauty and usefulness. The term is derived from the same word that gives us cordovan, a soft leather that originated in Cordoba, Spain and has long been used in the trade of making shoes.

The Cordwainer’s Technical College of London has an illustrious history of training world class artisans. Famous fashion designers like Jimmy Choo and Patrick Cox trained there. In 2000, Cordwainer’s was folded into the London College of Fashion. Barbora Veselá, the immensely talented artist featured in this short film by Petr Krejčí, is a recent graduate. Combining techniques that have provided beautiful results for centuries with a modern creative flair, she’s inspiring to watch and her shoes are fantastic. There is a certain peace and comfort that settles over me when I’m watching an artisan at work.

Video via Petr Krejčí on Vimeo.

Krejčí’s exceptional film captures the magical textures and sensuality of Veselá’s work. The shoes featured in the video are inspired by the colors and contours of geological maps, hence geological shoes. The creative process is refreshingly slow and careful compared to that of objects made entirely by machine, as leather scraps of different colors are cut and assembled on a shoe tree, sanded and cut again to become shoes. The punching of the leather for laces is a supremely sensual moment– so delightful!

If you are interested in looking at more shoes, or perhaps even ordering some from Veselá’s shop in London, please take a look at her website.

Traditional Delights: Carved Creations of the Ural Candle Factory

Should technology replace human craftsmanship? We often forget the joy of making things by hand. These videos may remind you.

© Kaiserb with CCLicense

© Kaiserb with CCLicense

The Ural Candle Factory lies in Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia, a city of roughly 1.5 million people straddling the border between Europe and Asia. Known for many years as Sverdlovsk, after a high ranking Communist party official, it reverted to its former name, which pays homage to the wife of Czar Peter the Great, Catherine I, in 1991. Founded in 1723 as one of Russia’s first industrial centers and raised to prominence by Czarina Catherine the Great in 1781, Yekaterinburg has seen its ups and downs. It was here, in the Ipatiev House in 1918, that Czar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their five children were murdered to seal the Soviet Revolution. Treasures of the Hermitage Museum were stored here during World War II, when Leningrad was deemed unsafe. In 1991, Boris Yeltsin, a native of the city, made Sverdlovsk reserve capital of the crumbling Soviet Union, but it was too late.

Yekaterinburg is a place where tradition and modernity have clashed, a place that reminds us that modern is not always better. The art of candle making and carving has changed very little over the centuries. Hot wax is poured into a mold, cooled and then dipped by hand into colored wax. Layers of different colored wax amass, hidden beneath the outer layer until the candle is carved. Skilled carvers slice into the candle and twist and position the material that has been cut, creating fantastic designs. Pearls, marbles or other items may be applied and the candle dipped into lacquer. The video below is impressive, as we see the process from a camera mounted on the candlemaker’s head.

This second one is a bit more artsy, and also shows the wax being poured into the original mold. It the first is a bit too rock and roll for you, it’s also more sedate, and you get to see footage at the candle shop. Look at those beauties!

Videos via URCF on Vimeo.

 

Quote for Today: Kate Jacobs

© Steven Depolo with CCLicense

© Steven Depolo with CCLicense

 

Seeing a pattern doesn’t mean you know how to pull it all together. Take baby steps: don’t focus on the folks whose skills are far beyond your own. When you’re new to something-or you haven’t tried it in awhile- it can feel impossibly hard to get it right. Every misstep feels like a reason to quit. You envy everyone else who seems to know what they’re doing. What keeps you going? The belief that one day you’ll also be like that: Elegant. Capable. Confident. Experienced. And you can be. All you need now is enthusiasm. A little bravery. And–always–a sense of humor.
Kate Jacobs