Tag Archives: taxidermy

Where your name is spoken

Looking Westward, a drawing of mine from a few years ago…. Raven is a bird close to my heart.

What a winter we are weathering.  Not for the normal reasons which might lead to a bout of winter weariness such as darkness or the ice and snow (we’ve had little of either, though we do suffer our fair share of a seemingly endless milky-gray pearlescence, which is a nice, wordy way of saying ‘day to day dismal’.)

Instead, there seems to be a general sense of malaise in all corners, at least to my winter-wearied eyes.  The political climate of late is one I am deeply committed to keeping track of, though how to do so and still nurture my rich inner world is proving to be a bit of a challenge.  (I am up to the challenge.)  All told, through this winter’s darkness, both literal and metaphorical, I’ll admit to having had to dig quite deeply to find any light lately within my heart- physically, creatively.  Some days I have felt quite extinguished indeed.  It’s been a hard time, ‘I don’t mind tellin’ you.’  

But, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve and all is not lost, fear not!  I am back to running the local village paths once again more routinely, just in recent days, no matter the weather! This morning I awoke with the clearest head I have had in months, the cobwebs having been cleared from my seratonin-deprived brain by just a few short, but successful hard runs around my neighborhood.  I could nearly weep with joy for the returning of this source of bliss and emotional sustenance in my life.

While running has not been available to me, walking still has.  Our dogs enjoy a wee trot outside each day, provided the roads aren’t too salty for their exposed paws.  I delight in a rhythmic jaunt where I can get lost in my thoughts.

A few days ago, the sun did shine for a day. (read: a brighter milky-pearlescence).  My hub and I went to the local nature center for some sketching time.  There are all sorts of very still, very dead, yet somehow quite animated taxidermy-style animals there and we took some time to draw them.

There was woodsmoke in the air there that day, and a sweetness as well, signaling maple sugaring season.  We enjoyed learning about how our native forebears likely processed, consumed and traded the sweet, valuable maple syrup and crystalline sugar using handmade tools they gathered from the earth and adapted to their needs.  I did not take a picture.

We discussed that day of how sad things have been (how sad I’ve been) and we talked also of how mood-changing a song might be when it catches our ears just so.  My Hub found one such song called I Don’t Recall done up so very beautifully by Lavender Diamond. They have a new video….

We were intrigued by the biography of this project to be found on Spotify…..

“The folk delight that is Lavender Diamond originally came to life in Bird Songs of the Bauharoque,  a punk operetta inspired by the work of American painter/architect Paul Laffoley.  Vocalist Becky Stark wrote and created the piece with a friend while living in Providence, RI, and starred as Lavender herself, a winsome part bird/part human who wants peace on earth.”

Hub wondered at which point in the song she was human and which bit might find her in bird form – to which I argued, why can’t she be both?  Both, at the same time.  animal.  woman.

I’ve been pondering a great bit lately this whole notion of polarity.  Political polarity, yes of course.  But also the light vs. the shadow sides of ourselves.  The Masculine and Feminine bits too, always in a dance, yes?  And even to how we react to times of great strain.   I am intrigued (and often infuriated) by the discussion of a perceived necessity to choose one thing over another.  Why can’t we be Both.  I am both Woman and Animal.  I am Light as well as Shadow.  I enjoy tapping into both the (traditionally regarded) Masculine AND Feminine within my whole self.  When I allow this, I am more wholly alive as a total human being.  Perhaps like Lavender herself.

Music has indeed been a balm and an inspiration when Mother Nature is resting and doesn’t give us much to go on in the way of sketchable stuff.

Though if one pays close attention…..

One of my favorite flute teachers shared a song the other day which caught my ear, as songs of old often do.

It put me in mind of leggy hares to be found across the pond.  so different from our own bulky little bunnies.  so I sketched one up.

As I continue to climb out of the dark hole of my recent state, I am grateful for things which catch my ear.  The music often being the first and foremost quality of a song shared.  If I get a tune rolling round in my head, words or no, that can be a good thing.  It can, indeed, change the tone of an entire day for someone sitting rather on the edges of things emotionally speaking.

But sometimes, what catches my ear is deeper still than just a catchy tune.  Sometimes, as I listen to a newly found thing, often on obsessive repeat, (yes it’s true, and part of my charm, I like to think) the words partnering with the music to enchant the heart can act like will-o-the-wisp.  Lights in the darkness, taking me down an enchanted lane to other worlds….

This morning the lovely Lin-Manuel Miranda (you know, of Hamilton fame?) shared the music of one Ali Dineen in the form of this song in particular, which much like the Lavender Diamond song above, has a happy feel to it.  (and, turns out, Lin was one of Ali’s 7th grade teachers.  Can you imagine?)

This song led me down the proverbial musical rabbit hole of her music in general and I was not to be disappointed.  (Thank you Lin!) Little lyrical snippets pulled at my heart strings as I jogged the paths here amidst this gray, cold village here in Ohio.

“Somewhere else there were
miracles, carnivals, and a space in the air
only your bones could fill.”

Just weeks away, I am reminded by this tune, is a trip south to Antigua, Guatemala where I will sink into constant art-making for a solid week.  This makes me happy beyond imagining.  And reminds me that winter will pass.  In spite of how hard things can seem just now, personally, nationally,  globally.

“Spring it brought madness and chaos and song
the wind growing warm, the days growing long
I watched the world blow through your mind
we stooped low to pick up what it left behind
Scattered stories of our country’s childhood,
though we’re deaf to their sounds
We’re trying to stand up straight
but we don’t know what’s weighing us down.”

“go when your feet are restless
go when you hear a faraway song
heed what your bones are saying
don’t wait for your saint to come….”

“go where your name is spoken
stay when you feel like standing still
no one can guide your footsteps
so walk where you will “

So, yes, later this spring, I will travel to Guatemala, where once upon a time, my name was spoken.  I have been trying to tap into that little gypsy girl who lived everywhere and nowhere.  The me who spoke Spanish “like a native” (my mom’s words) and who seemed to feel at home anywhere.  I seem to have lost track of her over the years but I am keen to get reacquainted.  I’ve been taking a formal Spanish course locally and it’s been more difficult that I had expected.

We conjugate a good bit, which I will admit, I don’t know how to do adequately in English, in spite of my ability to speak the language here.  I am banking on a small faith that this class will warm me up to hear my name spoken on the warm volcanic breezes in the Highlands of Guatemala.  I’m told I went there as a girl when my Nana Campbell came to town.  I do not remember.

But I do remember what calls to my soul:




Other Artists.

(we are all artists)

Thank you for reading…..


ps.  do go toss a few coins into the hats of any or all of these amazing artists.  they deserve it.





Meddling With Nature

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure to attend an artful workshop at The Art Academy of Cincinnati by taxidermy artisan Jeremy Johnson and his team at Meddling With Nature. This workshop was geared toward professional medical illustrators but as a member of the broader illustration community here in town, I was able to take part just for fun, to photograph, sketch a bit and learn about a different form of sculpture.  When I attended art school, sculpture was where my heart was at the time.  Add to that a deep love of nature and the out-of-doors and this class was something I looked forward to for weeks!

We started the morning by watching the above video, to get a sense of the scope of the work these folks do.  This is not just taxidermy for the local hunter looking to mount the head of a recently obtained backwoods buck.  We talked about how Jeremy and his team come to obtain their specimens and life and death in general. One thing I love about people who operate at the crossroads of art and nature is that there is little ‘front porch talk’.  They go straight for the real.  Meddling With Nature presents around town to schools and community groups and often must contend with overcoming the ‘ew’ factor of the average audience.  But this group, being scientists and artists, was full of wonder and appreciation for the specimens shared and the activities presented to us.

First up was entomological preparation. We were given a lovely pamphlet to peruse…

goat reading

But in the end, it’s just best to dive into the activity hands-on.  And so we did.


bugs 6

We were tasked with taking these insect specimens, rehydrated a bit in their shriveled state, and reigniting a sense of life in them by posing them for eventual display.

bugs 2

The pins act as a sort of scaffolding to the structure of the insects without pinning them through like you might see in other displays.  It was tedious and tiny hand work which I soon lost myself in.  My first specimen was a goliathus beetle from Africa.

sketch 2

I had to carefully manipulate the joints of legs and wings to open him up and show off his gorgeous wings which reminded me a bit of a bat wing.

bugs 5

There were many bugs available to mount.  And even a few to eat.  Yes.  Eat.  I tried a cheddar flavored meal worm.  Just one.  And that was enough.

I moved on to opening up my second insect specimen…. A Thorny Devil.  At first glance these guys look like little green tacos.



But eventually, the wings can be opened up, revealing under-wings the likes of which the fairy folk might encounter in their world.  I could just imagine a wee saddle placed just so to avoid the thorns.  (Thorns being a handy defense for airborne battles…)

bugs 7

bugs 9

sketch 4

While we manipulated our insects and pinned them into place, the lecture moved on to bigger beasts.  Jeremy shared with us a bit of what he might do with a bit of road kill in order to preserve and prepare it for taxidermy or to harvest the bones for an articulated skeletal specimen.

specimensjeremy 1

cat arm

This was all very fascinating.  The medical illustrators were asking very detailed and smart sounding questions with words I do not know.  I observed, worked on my bugs, and did some sketching.

sketch 3We learned about how to properly prepare bones for keeping and displaying so that they might last a good long while.  It’s an exacting list of steps requiring great patience and a bit of a strong stomach for some of the larger things one might want to keep.  But the patience is worth it.bones 1Many of these processes are what the museums and zoos use to preserve things for the public to handle and gawk at.  I have always liked the Victorian’s notion of keeping a bit of a museum of curiosities in one’s own home.  And now I have a bit more knowledge and a few skills to continue my own collection.collectionJeremy et al have the opportunity to work with a variety of local and more obscure specimens.  Below is a cast of the palate of a tiger who passed away from diabetic complications.tiger palateI have always been in awe of the patterns to be found in the natural world.  And there are some things which are objects of artful beauty without much ‘preparation’.black swan heartThis was a truly informative and thought provoking workshop.  A most inspiring portion of the presentation was a series of photos about dissection.  You can see them here.  As much as I love the natural sciences nowadays, I was never much of a student back in school and so there is much I do not know.  For example, that the color of a healthy gall bladder is a most elegant and gorgeous green color.  The photos on the Meddling With Nature dissection page call to me to make large scale juicy paintings.  I hope to get to this one day…

But for now, my sketch book calls.  I am weeks away from leaving for New Mexico to teach again and so must continue to work in my own little books to practice.  There is much in the garden to sketch.  (and, frankly, many weeds to pull and plants to divide.)  I will do what I can amidst the day to day.  It was wonderful to sit back and be a student for half a day.  Many thanks to Jeremy Johnson and the other artists from Meddling With Nature. What a treat!!