Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Year-end musings

Quite frankly - I'm glad to see this year come to a close. It's not been an easy one - but it has been heeeeeyuuuuge on the personal growth front. In an attempt to get my head around stuff, here are some things that have happened or I have learned in the past year:
  • I lost my best friend-sister-cousin to cancer

  • I was able to really step up for her when she was sick. (I am extremely grateful for the generosity and caring from my employers during that time.)

  • The grieving process is lot like the Grand Canyon. You can't really appreciate the imensity, scope, and vastness of it until your standing in front of it.

  • I lost a bunch of weight. No, this was not stress-related. This was a very conscious, present process.

  • I am redefining who I am and my place in the world and chagrined to face my own judgements about fat and thin.

  • I am continuing to find my own voice in my artwork and discovered that I just may actually have some talent.

  • Nature - and life in general - can be messy, smelly, gorey, ugly, brutal, and in your face. And - it's not personal!

  • For the most part I actually like my job.

  • Although I started out this year a bit afraid of him, I think I understand Coyote a little better than before.

  • Tatiana rocks!

  • Life really is what happens when your busy making other plans.

  • Everything is always changing.

  • Skeletons aren't as scary as they used to be - especially when teaching you to surf.

  • It's really OK to f-ck up. Really. It's OK.

  • It is quite possible that rules really were made to be broken. Especially the ones in your head.

  • These last two are intrinsically connected.

  • Nothing is ever all good or all bad. Nothings is ever written in stone. There are no absolutes.

  • Sometimes it's really best to say nothing at all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Card 2008

Holiday greetings!

As they say, everything is always changing, and we are announcing a change to the way we’ll be sharing our annual holiday card. In an effort to conserve both personal and global resources, this is the last year we'll be sending out paper, hard-copy Sloane-Ochoa original holiday cards.

But we’re not going away! We still want to share our original creations and best wishes with folks so, starting in 2009, we will be sending our holiday card via email and also posting it for viewing online.

That gives you a whole year to make sure we have your email address! You can send it to us at:

Reducing our footprint, one step at a time!
Another Sloane~Ochoa Original
© 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Celebrating Bluto

Jon Carroll, one of my favorite S.F. Chronicle columnists, often gives his readers a warning before launching into a "cat column". Apparently, some of his readers dislike his accountings of feline antics. I'm not one of them--I love his cat columns--but I'm going to take a page from his notebook and give warning here and now. Warning--this is a cat posting. Moreover, this is a feral cat posting--and it's not short. Does it get any better than that?

As I've previously mentioned, I have been both blessed and cursed to share my life with a group of feral cats. I've made a commitment to each of them--they've each been spayed or neutered, microchipped, immunized, and given daily food and water--and they have returned the favor by gracing us with a peek into their different personalities and social structure.

When Bluto first arrived on the scene in May, 2001, he was what my records describe as a "Big Nasty Orange Tom". We called him Bluto because all the other cats were afraid of him. He fought with the other cats and, when I managed to trap him, he was hateful, striking at me twice through the trap. After his release Bluto gradually mellowed and had become a regular fixture by the time Taran joined the group in June of 2002. It didn't take long for Taran and Bluto to bond, often sleeping curled up together and grooming each other. By July of that year Bluto was a sweet, albeit shy, marshmallow of cat, wholly dedicated to his feral feline family. Where Taran had assumed the more paternal, leadership role, Bluto was the nurturing, snuggling maternal presence of the group. Tortilina is the mighty huntress, keeping the yard free of rats and the only member of our clan who has kept her svelte figure. Every member of the clan looks after Mama Kitty, who has always had breathing issues and they all treat her with incredible affection and tenderness. Then there is Cinder Kitty who I call our Outrider. She comes and goes as she pleases, drifting in and out of the group, and is another story for another day.

Caring for feral cats is not easy. Crazy cat lady euphemisms aside, it has been a great lesson in love and surrender and all the different ways those can both be defined. I will never be able to touch them--they will not stand for that. Occasionally someone will get close enough to sniff my hand, but I can only guess I smell unpleasant to the feral feline nose because they will recoil and move away as quickly as possible. I may feed them, but short of that initial trapping, any kind of medical attention is virtually impossible. These guys ain't gonna fall for the same trick twice and, even if I did manage to trap them again, in most cases the extreme stress involved in a trip to the vet, and the difficulty and danger of handling and treating an essentially wild animal rules this out. It's not unlike those wildlife photographers who document events, but do not become involved as life and death works itself out in front of them. The biggest difference--I have made a lifetime commitment to these cats, whatever the scope of their lifetime might mean.

So I get to watch from a very privileged, yet distant place, while these guys move through their lives. We saw Bluto's health declining. He was old by feral standards. He had become increasingly hard of hearing and we were careful not to startle him when we could tell he didn't hear us coming. He spent almost all his time in our yard so we hoped he would be safe. Often the pupils of his eyes were unequal, one being significantly more dilated than the other. His coat, once dense and thick, started to look as if he was molting. Then one of his eyes became severely infected. Critics might say it was unfair to let him suffer, but I still believe a trip to the vet would have made him suffer more--and it would have been impossible to give him any kind of ongoing treatment. So we watched as the infection grew worse and sent him healing thoughts and love as often as possible, but always from a distance.

Bluto has been missing for well over a week now and we know in our hearts that he is gone. I fear that his end was not pleasant and I hope that our love and care made some difference in the overall quality of his life while he was here. His feline family called for him for several days, but that has tapered off. As I look back I marvel over the transformation his personality underwent and what an integral part of his feline family he became--the cat who once fought with everyone.

We all miss his warm, loving, hunk of a presence in our back yard. We miss how he and Taran would curl up together on the front porch, both impossibly fitting on the one chair. We miss his constancy and his shy, sweet, unassuming self.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Crow Irony

Yes... more about Crow. Among other things, I like the duality of crow--the light and dark, yin and yang, and the reminder that nothing is ever all "bad" or all "good". And face it. I just plain like crows.

This piece is small, 6X6 on canvas board, acrylic, gesso, white opaque flakes, cheesecloth, and original pen and ink art.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

It's my party...

Or in this case, it's my blog, and I'll post what I want to. I'm tired of waiting until I have a piece completed, photographed, or scanned, before posting here. The truth is, exploration in all forms, is what this space is about, so I've decided to share some new stuff. Because, as I mention in another post, I'm freakish about not using other people's proprietary images and content, and I'm also cheap, I use my own digital photography in my mixed media pieces. My holiday present to myself last year was my Canon S5 IS with a killer zoom.

In case it's not obvious, I'm also a bit freakish about animals and am both blessed and cursed to share my life with, among others, five feral cats. Make no mistake, these guys are truly feral, and we can't get too close to them, but I discovered recently that my zoom can.

Here's some backyard wildlife photography, in order of appearance, Tortilina and Mama Kitty above, Cinder Kitty directly below, and Taran in close up at bottom.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

We have the technology...

At long last - here is Raven. This piece measures 24X30 and was completed in 2007. Finding a way to effectively show this piece online has been challenging so my thanks go out to Craig at Luna's Memories, and his awesome scanner. You can click on the image to see it larger, although it still lacks a little something compared to the real thing.

First, the technical stuff. This piece incorporates acrylic paints, tissue paper, digital photography, and old topographic maps. All the images (with the exception of the topo maps) are original.

This piece is highly personal to me and the process of creating it was quite a journey on technical, artistic, and emotional levels.
  • Because I'm not into stealing other people's imagery and violating copyright laws, and I'm inherently cheap, I decided I needed to create the components of this piece myself. I discovered that maybe I really can paint.

  • Although I had previously only worked on pieces no larger than 9X12 I was being called, loudly, to go bigger with this piece. Purchasing the canvas and taking it out to my car was a true act of faith.

  • This is the piece where I first heard my own artistic voice and was able to stay true to it while serving the muse and the magic of Raven.

Oh, and another act of courage -- sharing this very personal piece with the world.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Snake and the Rule Book

Yes, it's a recurring theme in my life -- see Breaking the Rules if you need any kind of history here. Or, if you want more information you can read Truth about my struggles creating this piece. I worked on this piece for a long time. As I mentioned, there were both logistical/mechanical challenges as well as emotional ones.

Here's the other part.

On May 19, just as I was almost finished with this piece, my cousin was diagnosed with very advanced lung cancer. Somehow I managed to grab some time in my art studio between doctor's appointments, the emergency room, ICU, and vigilant advocacy at the hospital. I finished this piece shortly before she died on June 6.

We were very close, saying we were cousins and sisters (although I began to fear people would take us literally and really wonder about our family.) I was "her person" holding her hand throughout her illness. You can see her memorial video on YouTube.

Pain and grief are still very fresh right now so I can't completely articulate this, but I know her passing and this piece are connected. Snake teaches me to transmute, shed my skin, and embrace the power of fire. It's no mistake, ironic as it may seem right now, that the woman is smiling on the burnt pages of the rule book.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


No, it's not a blue frozen popsicle treat. My father turned 80 this past April and due to several unforeseen circumstances, I wasn't able to give him his birthday gift until recently. Obviously I couldn't post the picture of it until he had received the actual item, but here it is. Happy birthday Pop - you are officially an Octogenarian!
This piece is all about fun and reminder to me to lighten up once in a while. Not everything has to be deep, personal, and meaningful. Art is about expression, and there really is a lighter, goofy side to me. This is a mixture of digital artwork, using a photo I took of his dog Ruthie, textured papers, more words as visual elements, and lots of acrylic paint and medium.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hippo Birdies to Bro

The subtitle of my blog is Explorations in art, love, and speechlessness. This post is about all three.

You can't know me for long without hearing about my brother. We survived childhood together, and in our family that's no small feat. To say we're close is an understatement but I often find it difficult to tell the people most important to me how much I love them. He's a multi-talented carpenter, artist, river rafter, musician and he just turned 50. You can see his ceramics at www.sloanearts.com. Aint he something?

I made this piece for my brother, in celebration of his half-century mark this time around. This 11 X 14, mixed-media collage piece has a matte finish. The vintage photos of the mountains and digitally altered topographic map are the San Gabriel mountains, specifically Icehouse Canyon. We grew up at the root of these mountains and I think they are part of our cell structure. The photo of the two of us was taken on my 17th birthday. Hey, we all looked like that back then! Spider walked into this piece of her own accord.

Digital disclaimer: this is a scan of the unframed piece and not only is the resolution pretty poor, but it loses something without the frame. I gave it to him before I could get an image of the framed piece. If I do I'll replace this image, but use your imagination in the meantime.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lesser Known Artists and the Kindness of the Muse

When I took a hard right turn from pursuing visual art in college I landed on creative writing and earned a degree from San Francisco State. Memory is a funny thing, so I think my reflections now are very different from what was actually going on then. That being said, creative writing felt safer than art -- partly because I don't think I ever pictured myself as an actual working writer. I'm not sure I really gave fiction writing my full energies, but I did meet some incredibly gifted writers through that program, including my lifelong friend, Becky.

Poetry, on the other hand, was my strong point and there is one particular poem I wrote that, after all these years, I can still remember -- probably because it's very short. A poetry teacher took us all to the old San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (I'm not sure if that's even what it was called back then, but it was in an old building on Van Ness Street. If anyone knows the museum I'm talking about, please let me know) to see an exhibit by Lee Krasner -- an amazing abstract artist who suffered the distinction of being married to Jackson Pollock. In case you're wondering why Krasner's name is hotlinked here and Pollock's is not it's because Krasner spent her artistic career in Pollock's shadow and this is just my small way of paying tribute. If you want to know more about Jackson Pollock, use Google like everyone else...

The intent of the field trip was to use visual art as inspiration for poetry and the written word, but to me it was more about a holistic approach to art in general. Seeing those paintings was both inspiring for me and uncomfortable, but most importantly, left me feeling like I wanted to described that moment when art -- whatever genre you choose -- just works. When the muse is present and inhabits you. When the artist is the process, and the process is the artist, and every cell of your body is immersed, and when you're done it's like regaining consciousness.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Carlos and Clara, the Peregrine Falcons nesting atop San Jose, California's city hall, have four eggs! They've become quite the cyberstars and you can view them by web cam at http://sanjose.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?publish_id=91.

Yes, I haven't posted for a while. Given the choice between blogging about art, or getting out in the studio and doing it, I've opted for the latter. There should be some new stuff to show in a few weeks. In the meantime, enjoy watching C & C (as the falcon fanatics refer to them) and ponder the incubation process, both physical and metaphorical.

Kisses to all.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Size Matters

Get your mind out of the gutter. We're talking about art. What did you think?

I'm a big techie. I like the digital age. Pretty weird for a new age, granola, hippie girl... I know. But there is one thing I'm discovering as I'm posting images of my artwork here. Size really does matter. Size is an integral component in a piece -- be it small, like an assemblage piece made from a cigarillo tin or large, like the 30" x 40" canvases I work on sometimes that are almost as big as I am. The size of a piece of art work is as important as the subject matter, color, or medium. It's easy to forget this in www-land. Seeing a digital image of a piece can be misleading. The small assemblage piece can lose some of it's intimacy. The large canvas can lose some of it's impact. We sometimes forget to place the online images we see into the context of the "real world".

I love my blog. I love being able to share my art. But most of all, I love the art -- the "real" art -- and the process of creating it. So I'll try not to forget the real world, and that everything is relative.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Breaking the Rules

I can't remember the first time I was told you have to learn all the rules before you can know how to break them. Somehow that set up a weird process in my mind. I must learn -- and follow -- all the rules. I must not break the rules until I know all the rules. It seemed safer to simply follow the rules. Breaking them "properly" seemed so confusing and, quite frankly, dangerous. What if I broke the rules wrong? Anyone see the irony here?

So I've been pondering the idea of breaking the rules, burning the rule book, and drawing outside the lines.

Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Surviving the Artistic Process

As I mentioned in another post, I am reading Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales, a book introduced to me by my brother. We share a great love for the wilderness. We also share surviving a difficult childhood. But it was a surprise to me when writing in my last post (Truth) to realize the artistic process is a lot like the survival process. Diving into art is a bit like a walk in wilderness. Sometimes I know where I'm going, often I think I do, then the landscape changes dramatically. Sometimes the harder I stick to my original vision, the more lost I get. Sometimes I need to "remap" to get where I'm going. Sometimes I'm just plain lost.

According to Gonzales, research suggests when a person gets lost, he or she goes through five general stages, similar to the stages of grief and dying. First is the denial "that you're disoriented and press on with growing urgency, attempting to make your mental map fit what you see." Second is the realization "that you're genuinely lost, the urgency blossoms into a full-scale survival emergency." In the third stage you struggle to "form a strategy for finding some place that matches the mental map. (It is a misguided strategy, for there is no such place now: You are lost.)" Stage four is where you "deteriorate both rationally and emotionally, as the strategy fails to resolve the conflict." And stage five, is where "you must become resigned to your plight. Like it or not, you must make a new mental map of where you are... To survive, you must find yourself. Then it won't matter where you are."

Here's what I get to learn during my walk in my artistic wilderness. To be true to myself, find myself, and trust myself. It might be tough sometimes, but geeze, the view is incredible!

Friday, January 25, 2008


It's time for real life. I've been sharing personal triumphs and artistic revelations in an "ain't I cool, tell me I'm cool" way. But I believe in nothing if not balance and the wholeness of the Universe and Yin and Yang. So here's what's happening.

I am blessed with ideas. I carry around a small notebook, and when I get a vision of a new art piece I write it down, complete with thumbnails, copious notes, and lots of options and ideas. This can be tricky sometimes since I'm usually driving. I'll be careful, I promise. My ideas usually start with a personal issue -- something I'm sorting out in my own life, etc. -- and then the visual concept starts to bubble to the top.

I have a day job. I have a family. I have several four-legged critters. In other words, my time is not always my own. I'm also an expert at finding reasons for not going out to the studio. It's butt-freezing cold and rainy. There is no electricity out there. It's dark.

Also. There are roadblocks. There are technical/mechanical issues with one piece. Things are not going as planned. (Note to self. It's time to mentally remap. If you don't know what that means, read Deep Survival. I'm half way through and starting to get it. The artistic process is not unlike wilderness survival. Perhaps that will be another entry.)

There's more. There's the fact that I am taking on an uncomfortable subject right now. It's a strong powerful vision and I'm excited. It also involves snakes - OK, just one snake - but that's enough. I am not snake-phobic, but I am afraid of venomous snakes. Rattlesnakes in particular. Really afraid. And I know how powerful snakes are. They show up in my dreams whenever I'm going through a particularly difficult transition in my life. So right now I am in the squirming stage of the artistic process. I think that comes somewhere after denial and bargaining, but definitely before acceptance.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

If it was a snake...

Some lessons you learn over, and over, and over again. You'd think I'd finally get it...

I spent several years away from my art, using it only as an occasional diversion. Then, as the result of a very difficult time in my life, I came back to it only knowing I needed to open the door again, but not knowing what that would look like. So I cast about for a while trying to figure out how things should manifest and what kind of art I should do -- all the while sitting quite squarely in my head instead of my heart. And behind it all I knew I really love collage but figuring it just wasn't cool and "real art" enough. I can be such a snob sometimes.

Then, "for fun" I took a one-day collage class through the community college extension program and a choir of angels was heard. OK, not really. But I had a blast and came out of the class incredibly inspired and fired up. I realized what I had been looking for was there all the time. Right in front of my face. And in my heart. Same old lesson again and again.

Here's the piece that came out of that first class, constructed from elements provided by the instructor. My style has definitely evolved and come into it's own since this was done, but this one is very important to me. What started as an instructional exercise became a personal affirmation on how to move forward on my artistic journey -- and through life in general.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Girls and Horses

Yes. I was one of those girls. Horses everywhere. My walls were covered with posters of horses, my shelves crowded with plastic horses (each with its own name and familial relationship to the others), I drew horses all the time, and when my best friend and I played, we were horses. I wished on every star and dandelion that some day I would have a horse of my own -- and I actually got one!

What is it about girls and horses?

Here's what I think. The medicine cards teach that horses are about power. As young girls growing up in the 60's and 70's we struggled to find our own power. We knew it was out there, and certain factions were encouraging us to find it, but we weren't welcome in sports yet, it was assumed we weren't good at math, and our Barbie dolls still had dream dates and weddings, but no careers. (Take note younger women -- you are reaping what your mothers and grandmothers sowed.)

When I was pretending to be a horse I was independent and powerful and usually wild, or at least "high-spirited". When I was drawing horses I wasn't worrying about what society said I should look like (oh yes, I drew lots of really skinny, big-boobed girls too...) And when I was riding my horse it was one of the few times I was really on my own, just the horse and me in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains.

Creating this piece was one of those spontaneous words-as-elements things. In this case the words came first and the images formed around them. I love to use old topographic maps in my work (a backpacker's best friend) and the blue and gold seed beads carry the motion I was trying to convey. The words are tricky to see online -- but if you click on the image hopefully the larger image shows the words better.

I think of this piece as an affirmation and encouragment for me to go ahead and live. Get dirty, take risks, break the rules, work through the fear, be uncomfortable, trust your vision.

And people wonder why girls love horses.

Wolf Pup

Never take a job on commission. Especially when it's for family. Especially when it's for your teenage daughter.

OR - Go ahead and take the job. Then throw out everything they say they want and do what you want.

I have a word box. I cut out words and phrases from magazines, comic books, and catalogs and keep them in my word box. It's best if I keep this a totally right-brained activity (tricky since I think language is left-brained in origin) and not have any expectations for what I cut out. I just snip what jumps out at me. Then, when I'm constructing a piece I go through and see who wants to come out and play. While many of my smaller pieces incorporate these words, I haven't used them in my larger pieces -- yet.

My daughter, Mara, saw the words "No Accident" one day and asked that I create a piece for her with these words. After picking her brain for some inspiration I realized I couldn't work with her vision -- I had to work with my own vision for her. Wolves are important to Mara (I sometimes call her Wolf Pup) and the rest of the words chose themselves. I really wanted more of a street or graffiti art look for this piece -- something less polished and little messy. I'm not sure if I achieved that but I'm pleased with the end result. I worked with acrylic emulsions, medium, and many, many layers of different paints and papers. The digital image really doesn't do this piece justice (it's too big for my scanner -- this is a digital picture. As soon as I can get it scanned I'll repost). There's a lot of texture going on and I can't look at it without touching it and experiencing the textures. This piece, called "Mara's Wolf", is 9X12 on canvas board.

Some folks have been
puzzled by this piece. Mara and I both really like it -- so both client and artist are happy.

Things I learned:
- Feel the force, Luke. Trust yourself, you know best.
- Composition, composition, composition. It doesn't really work here, I know.
- Life is messy sometimes.
- Wolves really are teachers.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Outing the Artist...

OK, OK... here's the deal. People are asking when I'm going to post more entries and art. I seem to have a billion excuses, including lack of scanner access for my bigger pieces. The truth is, coming out of the art closet is not easy. The point of this blog is to share my art and my process, which is a big step since I am most comfortable operating in stealth mode. It's a long, personal story, but there have been several incredible people who continue to support and encourage me in the process of reclaiming my art. One of them is my gypsy-pirate friend, Shawna, so here's a little something I did for her.

I've learned so much from watching her live her life and she seems to be my personal cheerleader no matter what I do! In fact, she's partly responsible for the name of this blog. When she announced she was moving out of Northern California -- again -- I couldn't let her leave the state without a small piece of art from me and my wishes for joy on her journey and the many gifts life brings.

Joy for Shawna is completely right-brained and only makes sense to me if I don't try to make sense of it. This is a small piece, just 4X6, on canvas board, with acrylic paint and medium, blue tulle (in honor of the tulle queen herself), clip art illustrations, and comic book excerpts.

So the closet door has been opened just a wee bit here, but I'm looking forward to seeing sunlight soon.