“This is how ideas are born,/
and poems, within the veiled chambers/
of the heart . . .”
I have a friend whose ideas are given form through her poems, her mixed-media art, her paintings, but also through her thoughtfulness. After all, sometimes the greatest piece of art is found in a smile, a soft touch on the shoulder, a patient cross of the legs while listening to the troubles of others.
I doubt most of us stop to think of these gestures as art, but in this moment, I think they are – in the sense that they’re creative forms of expression.
They are unique renderings of experience and emotion and reflections on the world around us. I’ve seen my friend create these as well, but today I want to focus on her visual art.
“This is how thoughts
travel paths under thin shade of cedars,
under birch and sycamore,
under moss that mounts starry eyes
along the creek bed.
This is how wishes wing their way
to hope, to belief. . . .”
(both excerpts above are from the poem “Common Miracles” by Sandy Spencer Coomer)
I’ve dedicated this website to art and to artists I admire. In part because I’m someone whose wishes wing their way to hope and one of my hopes is that other people will spend some time with the art they find here, will be compelled to learn more about the artists and to visit their respective websites, to explore their work further, and perhaps be changed in some small way by the encounter. For the better, of course.
In a wonderful short essay, Maria Popova writes that for Leo Tolstoy, making art “was about the transference of “emotional infectiousness”; for Jeanette Winterson, about “active surrender” . . . Art allows us to use a different language in order to share an essential part of ourselves with others, to participate in a much larger conversation, and as Neruda put it, to “widen out the boundaries of our being.”
And that’s what Sandy Spencer Coomer does with her poetry. With her art. Even, I would argue, with her work as a triathlete. She uses different languages to express and to share parts of herself with larger groups. And I think that’s one of the reasons I admire her so much.
“In order to see birds,” states Robert Lynd, “it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”
I’ve spent most of my life observing, watching, taking things in, becoming part of the silence. For me, that is one of the most rewarding aspects of being an artist.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of observing a number of other artists – literary, musical, visual – as part of the annual West of the Moon retreat for creatives. And during that time, I’ve been fortunate enough to become friends with a poet who is also a triathlete, and a visual artist, and a mom, and . . .
When I met her she didn’t question whether or not she should pursue her art, as much as whether or not it was okay if she didn’t put doing so at the very forefront of her endeavors. After all, family is very important to her. As is her training. I can’t tell you how much I respected her, and continue to respect her, for having such an epiphany.
Every so often she lets me know that she’s been at the page or that she’s worked on some of her visual art. She’ll mention how good it feels, not just being at it, but being reminded that she can be when she wants.
In the silence, I’ve watched her accomplish much over the past few years and whenever I see her, or hear from her, or come across her accomplishments online, I stop and smile and nod to myself. She’s an inspiration to me to keep after it. The one thing I continue to tell others to do every day. She’s an inspiration to me and a reminder that the key to a good life, the essential thing really, is to be true to yourself.
To slow down and to listen to your own heart. To follow the light inside you along your own path.
In addition to being a fan of Sandy’s poetry (and I look forward to reading more soon and to listening to her read in New Harmony next June), I’ve had the pleasure of exploring some of her visual art (drawings, paintings, and mixed-media) which I find extraordinary, especially when I consider that she is self-taught.
With a background in science, I guess you could say that Sandy is living proof that it’s not about being right brained or left brained. She’s part scientist, part athlete, part visual artist, part writer, and all those things compliment her as a mom, wife, and friend. In some ways she’s a modern-day Renaissance Woman. It’s no wonder I find her very inspiring.
And I find her art, calming. When I spend time with it, I feel a connection to the earth and to nature and to myself. It’s the sort of art that delights. That fills me with smiles. I can’t describe it better than that. I always find myself settling a bit more into my seat, these small, simple, soft smiles coming up from inside me, again and again, as I move from one piece to the next.
Below you’ll find an email interview I had with Sandy, as well as some of her bird-related mixed media work. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Young Adult author, Jacqueline Woodson says that writers tend to focus on the time in their lives they’re still working through. Is there an element of truth to Woodson’s claim (or to artists revisiting special times in their lives) as it relates to visual art (or to any of your work)? If so, how?
Art, for me, is not so much a “working through” of anything as it is a “playing through” of things that interest and delight me.
Being in natural environments, especially forests and mountains, has always been my respite from life’s struggles. These places spoke to me, calmed me – because of the quiet, the aloneness of such places. Years ago, I became interested in naming the living things I came across while hiking, especially the trees and birds. (Yes, I was one of those people that hiked with field books in my backpack.) Identification of bird species became an obsession, one that didn’t always find equal thrill with my companions. Try telling someone that bird with the red breast is not a robin, but a common redstart – you sound like a know-it-all. I’m fascinated with birds. Drawing them is an outlet for that fascination.
Mixed media is a different (dare I say) bird. While my watercolor birds are mostly true to the natural world and environs, mixed media birds are whimsical and quirky, the colors unusual and playful. I tend to go a little loud and crazy with mixed media, using stripes, checks, floral designs in every color imaginable. This is my wild child art, the other side of my usual “rule-follower” personality.
How long have you been interested in art (writing/visual art)?
I’ve been interested in poetry since childhood, as evidenced by journal after journal of terrible poems. Visual art, in the form of drawing, came a little later, probably in my college years. Mixed media came even later, in the mid 1990’s, when the scrapbooking craze went through the US.
Creating art for art’s sake, on canvas, and selling it, started about January 2014, when I decided I needed yet another totally consuming thing to take up my time.
What are you creating art for (as in, what’s the deep down driving force behind your choice to draw/paint/working in mixed media)?
It’s not to save the world or change people’s lives or offer some essential lesson on living. It’s much more selfish than that. I create (poetry and visual art) for the joy it gives me. That said, the person that bought the first piece of art I sold sent me a message saying the piece “touched her soul.” It was an unexpected gift to hear those words. I never imagined someone could like my art in a personal way as much as I enjoyed making it.
What is it about the process that you like most? Least?
The birds I draw with ink/watercolor on canvas board are not typical bird drawings. I fill the head, body, wings, tail feathers with pattern and designs (Zentangle, a form of meditative design art).
Part of my process is to let the bird tell me what color it wants to be and what designs it wants to hold. So, my favorite part is waiting to discover what the art piece will tell me it wants to become – what shape it wants to inhabit, what colors it wants to live within. Believe it or not, often it’s a surprise to me. I can begin a piece with a pre-conceived notion and something entirely different will fashion the end product.
The same thing occurs with mixed media. I usually have a general idea of what I want to create, but within the time frame of creating, something new and unexpected works its way onto the canvas.
Mixed media, being the type of art that uses a large and varied amount of material, requires a large storage area for said amount of materials. That can become problematic when you see a potential use for nearly anything you come across – stamps, price tags, bubble wrap, pages out of magazines, buttons, metal O rings, string, etc.
My least favorite part is the messiness of having it all out at once. Or, maybe that is just my husband’s least favorite part. My least favorite part is hearing him say he wishes I would clean up a bit.
What sort of subjects do you prefer drawing/painting/creating/exploring and why?
Obviously, birds and flora. My watercolor art is exclusively that. I tend to include words and phrases in mixed media – blending art with my love of words and poetry. Favorite themes are Home, Family, Dare to Dream, Belief in Self, Belonging, Courage.
There are almost always birds of some form in my mixed media, symbolizing freedom to explore, excel, and enjoy life.
What is your relationship with color?
I tend to get stuck in greens and oranges – don’t ask me why. In watercolor, I try to stay with color, shape, and design evidenced in the natural environment. I try to stay as true as I can to reality, meaning lots of greens, browns, tans, and grays in leaves and branches, and birds being close to their natural colors as well.
With mixed media, it’s different. Birds can be purple and pink striped; trees, red polka dot; houses, orange and blue paisley. Anything goes.
When I start a piece with a blank canvas in front of me, and I convince myself to begin with something other than orange or green, I tend to approach things in a fair-minded way. I ask what color hasn’t been used lately – teal, yellow, pink, brown, purple – and go from there. I want to be kind to all the colors.
What sort of background do you have?
I have had no art training whatsoever, though I do like to look at art and read about art, especially the Impressionists (my favorite artist is Gustave Caillebotte). I occasionally flip through an art or mixed media magazine, and I once bought a book about drawing birds which I decided was too hard to follow.
What is one thing about art you think people might not understand?
That there’s no need to try to understand anything. Like what you like, yet be open to things that don’t strike you immediately as positive.
You don’t have to overthink it, just be willing to be moved when you encounter the right piece for you. React without bias, solely through the heart.
If you could work on any art project what might it be and why?
I want to print my watercolor birds on notecards and sell them, giving the money to charities that support healthcare in the impoverished counties of East Tennessee. This is the region my mother grew up in, the Appalachian Mountains – my history, my roots, and the people I feel most connected to in this world.
Do your art subjects in general (or any specific pieces) reflect your personality in some ways? If so, would you elaborate on that?
I don’t like being told what to do (which is why I hate writing from prompts). Though it may speak to a stubborn streak, I don’t like hearing this is the right way, this is the wrong way to do anything. I’m very calm in a crisis, but very impatient in everyday life.
I don’t like to sit and ponder; I want to act.
For me, birds symbolize freedom and beauty, a simple yet purposeful interaction with the world, comfortable on the ground, yet able to fly. In the natural world, birds follow instinct, not rules. I suppose, in many ways, my artistic endeavors are all about instinct. I don’t think about it for very long. Something in my mind, my heart, knows what to do and I just do it.
What technique/media did you use to create “Bird” (see above right)?
This particular bird was loosely drawn freehand with pencil on canvas board, then re-drawn using archival ink. I filled in areas on the bird with Zentangle patterns. Then I used watercolor pencils to color the bird and its environment, painting over the pencil color in each section with water using a fine brush. The final step was to color and paint the background, blend any colors that seemed too sharp, and shadow the undersides of specific items with a neutral grey to produce definition and dimension.
Do you have any specific upcoming projects for which we should keep a look out?
My second book of poetry, The Presence of Absence, will be released in December 2014. I plan to use winter 2014-15 to restock my Etsy store, Sparrow House Art, with new mixed media and watercolor pieces.
Aside from your main website, are there any specific websites with your work that you’d like me to link back to if possible?
My chapbook, Continuum, is available from the publisher, Finishing Line Press.
Below you’ll find a fun progression demonstrating the sundry steps Sandy takes in creating some of her art.