Back in uh…oh, 2011? Yeah, 2011, I finished my Tarot card series. These were 24X36in acrylic on canvas pieces depicting the major arcana of a tarot deck as animals. The entire project took me just over two years and was a major learning experience for me both personal and professionally.
They helped me improve as an artist as well as really feeding me spiritually. Now, I don’t want to come off as ‘woo’ when I say that. Understand I view Tarot as good fun. It doesn’t tell you anything you don’t know because the cards are rich with rather obvious symbolism. In short, you see what you want/need to see in the symbols.
In my case, as I was working on them, I was also exploring how the symbols crossed over into other belief systems - primarily and most heavily - how they crossed over into Buddhism. There were a lot of parallels in the symbols used in Tarot and the symbols used in Buddhist teachings.
It was a very fun and very all-consuming project which culminated in a successful gallery exhibition in London, where I sold my first originals on a public scale, rather than to the odd interested private buyer. Okay, *shuffled feet* the only other person who’d bought my art at that point was my psychologist.
It was very liberating to exhibit and sell my art but afterwards was a bit of a come down. I didn’t have another project, really, and I’m the sort who ALWAYS WANTS A PROJECT.
Well, I picked a project but it was the unsuccessful adventure into self-employment as a life coach, at which I failed miserably - much to my relief. I like giving it away for free. That’s why I now have my podcast.
But for a year and a bit, art just wasn’t happening. I dabbled in a few projects and ultimately decided my writing needed to take precedence so I leapt feet first into finishing the manuscript that would turn into Wise at Any Age and land me the added accomplishment of published author (woo!).
All very exciting and thrilling and what-have-you, but I quickly realised that, as much as writing is my ultimate, favourite, most consistent passion - I have to make art. If I don’t make art, even just a bit a week, I start to get… twitchy. Can’t explain it. It’s like there’re bees in my brain and they’re producing creative energy that must be released because if it isn’t, well, I twitch. I twitch and I get uncomfortable in my own skin and my neurosis begins to run wild despite meditating twice a day. For serious. It's a problem.
When I realised all this I was going through a major transition* and I had become a bit of a Buddhist hermit. I’d set my life up in such a way that I was meditating two or three times a day, listening to dharma talks on my way into work, listening to dharma talks on my lunch break, reading dharma books after work and going to weekend retreats every two or three months.
I didn’t realise it at the time but what I was doing was effectively living in retreat. I was working out a way to integrate practice into everything I did. And it was paying off, for sure. I was feeling way calmer and focused in everything. I was becoming a sort of ‘peace maker’ at work. I found myself always watching my mind, in every situation.
And I found myself wanting to make art about it.
Consuming all this dharma was intense. I felt saturated and yet, also insatiable. I would contemplate what I was studying, what it meant to me, how I could apply it to my professional and personal relationships. I was catching my negative thought patterns and noticing unhelpful actions and turning them around. I was improving my speech and having a level of self-awareness that was noticeable to others.
I started writing down snatches of things that came to me. Words which I thought of but didn’t feel like I’d come up with, exactly. They were just things that stemmed from the talks I listened to, the books I was reading, the teachings I was attending.
My journals filled up with them and I started visualising imagery to go with them. Some of it was very specific to a particular teaching or symbol in traditional Tibetan Buddhism. Some of it was more spontaneously just because - like on a gut level of feeling it was the most fitting image for a particular bit of text I’d thought of. I had some pieces I’d done in the years when I was more focused on my tarot card pieces. I decided this would be a continuation of that.
When I was re-designing my website I decided to create an online gallery for the sake of simplicity (all my work in one place) as well as to save time. One page to design instead of one for every project. That whole promise to stop compartmentalizing what I do and share it in one place.
In laying it all out this way I realised I have created a body of work that far surpasses anything else I’ve done. There are twenty-three pieces in the gallery right now, although twenty-five completed ones ( I promise I’ll get my Vajrayogini up soon), and so many more bubbling in my mind’s eye, waiting to be made into something tangible.
It’s amazing to look back and realise there’s something here, something I did not set out to do but has happened simply because I feel so compelled. Compelled to deepen my studies and understanding, to share what I’m learning, and to create.
Always to create.
*We are always in transition. Sometimes it’s just more noticeable.
So - over on my Facebook page I’ve been posting pictures of fierce naked ladies that I’ve been drawing AKA Dakinis! Thus far I’ve completed three Dakini pieces and I’ve got many ideas for several more.
“But what?” you may be asking, “is a Dakini? And why are drawing them?”
I could tell you ALL THE THINGS about Dakinis but there are other people much better suited to do so - like Judith Simmer-Brown, for example. I am a very fortunate owner of a signed copy of Dakini’s Warm Breath, which, whilst not necessarily containing everything there is to know it certainly contains enough to provide a really solid understanding of Dakinis, Dakini Wisdom and their iconography.
Because Simmer-Brown has done all the research I am going to quote the description from her book to explain Dakinis (in brief):
“…the dakini symbolizes levels of personal realization: the sacredness of the body, both female and male; the profound meeting point of body and mind in meditation; the visionary realm of ritual practice; and the empty, spacious qualities of mind itself.”
Quick clarification here - Buddhist iconography is almost always created to reflect the wisdom of the individual who looks at it. Thangka paintings are classic images rich with symbolism representing the inherent wisdom and enlightened state of every human being.
And Dakinis are a big part of this, though a very misunderstood part because, well, that whole sticky issue of sex and sexuality and celibate monks. But the nudity of a Dakini isn’t sexual at all. It’s a blatant representation of the naked and open quality of an enlightened mind.
I am not an expert, thought, and not here to give a lesson on Dakinis and the teachings surrounding them. I’m a Creative Polymath and student of the Dharma (Buddhist teachings/scripture/way of life) therefore I am exploring these teachings by making art!
Why Dakinis? Well, one of the teachings that Simmer-Brown shares in her book is that the Dakini does not belong to women. Rather, we belong to the Dakini. And well, so do men, for that matter. And gender ambiguous people too and all the lovely in between identities of gender.
What this means is up for interpretation and not something I’m yet able to put into words - although I do feel I 'get it' more often than not.
All I know right now is I’m compelled to draw them.
I dreamed about one and I want to draw her. I see certain women - powerful, proud, strong women - and I want to create Dakini versions of them. I listen to a teaching where the teacher describes a Dakini and then I feel the need to draw it. I take a picture of myself dancing and decide the pose is that of a Dakini.
So, I just wanted to let you know what all these brightly coloured naked women are about.
To see more of my Dharma inspired work check out the Dharma Art in my online Gallery. The Vajrayogini piece pictured with this post is now complete but not yet in The Gallery. It will be soon!
When not writing, making art or recording podcasts,
Kaitlyn can be found in trees, listening to Dharma talks on her iPod, Boon.
Thusly named because
Brian Froud = Awesome.