Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Broken Arrow Mandala

Broken Arrow Mandala

After recently participating in an arrow breaking exercise, I felt compelled to create a piece of art to signify this experience. Created on 22x30" handmade (Punjab) rough watercolor paper, the background was created first with acrylic paints and only a foam roller. Next I blocked in the colors and shapes with additional acrylic paints- then added the next to last step with black acrylic gesso. Lastly, the white details were added with a gel ink pen. Piece was then sealed with acrylic spray.

I created this video to show the various stages of progress on this piece. The music was composed by me using GarageBand.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why to Walk the Fire?

Lump of coal from my Fire Walk

I can't exactly tell you where I got the notion that I wanted to walk across burning hot coals, but there it was, sitting on my list of things to do in 2011. (Along with: fly a kite, visit Portland, OR and book a solo art show...)

It seemed to pop up naturally considering my early years were spent with a pair of very over protective parents. Though I'm sure they meant well, this led me to being afraid to live life for fear of something bad happening. And bad things can happen- but what life is worth living when you live it inside a box of fear? You will never experience the good without exposing yourself to the possibility of the bad. And whose to say what "bad" really is? "Bad" is often a growth opportunity and also a matter of perspective.

One day I realized that not only could I make my own choices about what's right or wrong for me, but that I could also start to live the life I've always wanted. This all started in late 2001 after suffering for months of debilitating depression when on a whim, I jumped on a plane (for the first time ever, AND right after 9/11) to California so I could see Hollywood and all of the other sights that had been a part of my TV childhood. It was also during that year when I started to make and sell my own jewelry at local craft shows and art festivals. I was finally asserting my creative identity and people were responding in a very positive way.

2005 was the year I found the drumming community and for the first time ever, felt a deep connection to people just like me. Spiritual minded and seeking to transform, I would attend numerous personal growth workshops by my friend Jim Donovan, (former drummer from the band Rusted Root) and would later pair up with him to work on a number of exciting projects. It was through that friendship and all those interrelated that I would be encouraged to LIVE my life and to let go of being so afraid.

From 2007 forward, I'd get my GED, help to write a book, start teaching my own workshops, quit my "day job" to pursue my creative ventures, perform music in front of thousands of people, drive to central Ohio, NY, VA & MD, create over 1600 pieces of art, author 2 popular blogs, participate in a live art competition, and generally put myself out there as much as possible. This is how I chose to give back and leave my legacy to the world- through my writing, art, music and teaching, Through my own personal experiences, my goal is to inspire and empower others to live their own lives to their fullest potential.

Oh, AND I walked through fire. But that was only the beginning. Like I said, I wasn't even sure what prompted me to want to do it other than I knew that any kind of transformational event can help move out mental and emotional baggage and help you to become a better person. I guess you could say that a fire walk is a right of passage in a society that doesn't really offer any such thing. While ironically I wasn't afraid to walk the fire, I was terrified of who I would be on the other side. While I love transforming all this unhelpful baggage, there is a certain amount of responsibility needed to take each new risk and it's scary to think of leaving anything behind, (Even the "you" you no longer want to be.)

Broken Arrow from the arrow break exercise

While we were waiting for the fire to burn down, I had the opportunity to experience something that for me, would prove to be even more intense than the fire walk. I participated in an arrow breaking ritual. The way this works (Don't ever try this at home!) is that you place the tip of an arrow at the hollow of your throat at the place where something pointy was never meant to rest. The back of the arrow is set into a notched board and after taking several deep breaths, you step forward while holding your breath into that sharp pointy thing lodged right at your throat. I cannot begin to tell you how effing afraid I was to do this. All I kept thinking about was how wrong this could go - but I told my subconscious to take a hike, that I was going to do it anyway, that I needed to do this.

Before placing the arrow at my throat, I was asked to name a belief I wanted to break free from. The facilitator had told us that this intention combined with the action would often times immediately break a person of the thought pattern connected to the unhelpful belief. My fear? The fear of success- but more specifically, the fear of losing people closest to me as I progress.

That said, it was my turn to move forward. Not only was I about to walk into a sharp pointy thing, but one that represented by biggest fear. I had no idea if it would work but I could only trust that my intention would carry me through. One...two... I held my breath, pushed forward, and the arrow shattered to pieces. The facilitator turned to hug me and I collapsed in her arms. I started to cry and then the big heaving sobs took over and I just let it all go..... I will never forget what it was like to physically take that step forward... Never. And just think about what that single motion represents- conscious movement towards that which scares us the most AND which could cause us physical harm. But it didn't. :o)

After that, the fire walk was a piece of cake. (That doesn't mean I wasn't respectful of the fact that I was walking over 900 degree hot coals...) I stopped looking so far down the road of what might happen and concentrated only on getting to the other side. And that's what this whole thing was really about- conquering the obstacle right in front of us. I walked the fire that night 7 or 8 times, and no, I never burned my feet. I was never worried about burning my feet.....

Big huge to Kat Naslas for teaching me how to walk the fire and for lending me her shoulder to cry on and to Mary Cameron, owner of Walking Winds Holistic Center where the event took place. And to my soul sister Debbie, who did the arrow break first.

Short video of an arrow breaking ritual.  Once again, do not attempt this without the guidance of a professional facilitator.

Top image is me holding charcoal from the fire. I will be using it to draw...

Monday, June 20, 2011

The War For Me is Over

No Art Wars Championship of the World for this girl. I didn't even make it to the finals. (I got Chopped!)  In the first round, we used our own supplies to create on a canvas size of their choice and a theme which was presented to us just moments before we started. In the Semi-Finals, we didn't know what materials we would be creating with, what the "canvas" would be, or the theme until once again, just moments before our starting time.

The first thing we saw was our canvas. A big sheet of metal. My mind started to whirr.....   "Metal must be primed..." Touching it, the surface was slightly greasy. The next thing they gave us was the theme: "Modern" Ummm... Okay. Lastly, we were told to open our "Ammo" boxes to see what we would be creating with. Arrgh! I couldn't get my box open. Had to ask one of my fellow contestants for help. (Alex Clare -The One Who Would go on to Win Art Wars.) And inside the box?

3 tubes of acrylic paint: 1 large Titanium White, 1 black, 1 Cadmium Yellow Light Hue

1 red marking crayon
1 sheet of sandpaper
5 post it notes
1 plastic baggie 1/3 filled with sand (Sand? )
1 small bottle of children's blue finger paint
1 sponge roller
2 makeup sponges
various brushes (not artist grade - think children's watercolor brushes)
1 silver marking pen
2 paper bowls (for mixing paint)

Yep. That's it!

So what did I do first? Scrubbed the heck out of the sheet with the sandpaper so the paint would stick. Keep in mind that this is thin sheet metal and is prone to flopping back and forth on my easel. It in fact flops so much that it breaks my easel and I am forced to start working on the ground. (Ended up being a screw that fell out - which I luckily found and would replace about 10 minutes later.) I don't really have anything to wipe off the surface and so I just apply white paint and try to use the little foam roller to spread it evenly. The key word is "Try." It is a child's tool and is extremely ineffective at spreading the paint.

I resort to using my hands to apply the paint. (A recurring theme for me the rest of the battle.) I try to expedite the drying process by flinging sand against the surface. Some of it sticks but mostly I make a mess. I was so confident that I could create with whatever they gave me but my brain started to short circuit and everything I seemed to do resulted in a bigger & bigger mess. None of the brushes have stiff bristles and I couldn't get a decent line. Inside I'm crying but my logical brain kicks in and reminds me of my mantra which is, "I refuse to let a piece of art stay ruined." I know that despite the mess I'm making with paints that won't stick, dry or mix, that I will make something amazing and that everyone will love it and I will win.

But the DJ is playing music so loud I swear my ears are bleeding. It isn't even anything I know, much less like and I'm furious with myself for not bringing my earplugs. (Just keep swimming...) It becomes a serious distraction for me.

I didn't care about the theme, "Modern" as I figured that whatever I was guided to create would somehow end up fitting the theme. I'm an abstract artist dammit! Since 90% of what I create is mandala art, I knew there would be one, but also envisioned one of what my friend Debbie affectionately calls my "Big Boobie Girls" and saw her holding the mandala. What I was developing would turn out to be something along the lines of a modern day Mother Earth reminding us that she's got things under control.

I work as quickly as I can but can't seem to shake the feeling like what I am doing is the work of a small child. A very messy child. I apply more & more paint (much with my fingers) to try and make things better. It starts to feel like all I'm doing is damage control. One interesting thing to note is that I think I may have been the only person to actually use each and every item provided to us in the ammo box with the most challenging item being the hard wax crayon. I ended up shaving bits of the crayon off with the little plastic knife and applying them to the wet paint. Yaay for ingenuity!

In the end, I just didn't earn enough votes to move on to the finals and went home with the strangest feeling inside. I felt... nothing. As in I wasn't beating myself up (like I usually would) over what I might have done differently. It took me a while to understand, but it was a sense of "I showed up and did the best I could. No regrets." And I was really proud of that.

While I've been sharing my work on the web for several years, it had taken great strength for me to come out as an artist in my local community, and with the Art Wars, I did it in the biggest way possible. Right out in public with people surrounding me and camera flashes popping, I created images that reflected my own personal artistic vision and so many more people got to experience who I was as an artist. It was wonderful to have people (strangers) approach me and tell me how my art makes them feel or how they interpreted its meaning. When you create, you do so first and foremost for yourself but while feedback not only makes an artist feel good, it also motivates us to continue (for better or worse) to do what we do.

In addition to the experience of creating live art, I can't tell you how many amazing people I got to meet throughout this process, not to mention the additional opportunities it has created for me within this community I was so afraid of allowing myself to be a part of.

July 16th Connexions Galley in Easton, PA will be holding a live auction consisting of work from all 16 artists from each round of the Arts Wars - additional details to follow.

Additional photos from my round of the Semi-Finals can be found on Facebook under Elaine Zelker Photography.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cheers to the book unread

More Books

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions but I believe it may be paved with unread books.

Years ago when I worked at the mall, my friend Nancy from the bookstore told me about a conversation she once overheard in the store. A child said to her mother, "I want this book!" To which the mother replied, "But you already have a book." We chuckled in amusement but also felt sorry for that poor child to have been denied a book. As an avid reader myself I'd grown up with my worst fear being that of Burgess Meredith in that old Twilight Zone episode, "Time Enough at Last." (All the books in the world to read but his glasses break.)

I was an early reader. Able to read the newspaper at the age of 4 and granted one of the esteemed orange library cards (access to the adult library) while my schoolmates were still engrossed in their Ramona and Beezus books. Though we didn't have much money, Mom would still slip me a few dollars to order books from the Scholastic Book Club in elementary school.

When I would hit the age of 16 and work full time at the mall, I'd be sitting in that kiosk for up to 11 hours a day. The mall security guard would take pity on me and bring me brown grocery bags filled with paperbacks to keep me occupied. I'd read everything in those bags regardless of the content or genre at a rate of about 1 paperback per day. (Luckily they were mostly horror, mystery and true crime. My fav's at the time.)

I'd move around a few times (and things get lost or tossed when you move as they always do) until settling in with my husband at the age of 19. Moving into the apartment together, I can still remember his aunt Joyce bringing over her housewarming present of a large bookcase- knowing I was an avid reader. I'd fill that case and then some, once again moving my prized collection of books to the house I'd inhabit for the next 20 years.

We now have a finished attic room where the books reside. Or at least they used to reside. One day I discovered that my collection was comprised of two kinds of books. My favorite fiction, and various non-fiction books purchased when I held an interest in a certain topic and wanted to learn more. Any time I'd be up there, I wondered why I still had all those hard back Stephen King books and that's where it started. I realized that though I had in fact re-read many of my favorites, I understood that I was holding on to these books for the wrong reasons- the same reasons hold on to anything- for the attached memories. So into a box they went. Once you get the 1st one in, the rest come easy.

But as for the non fiction? This is where I feel like I'm headed down the firey brick road. I'd buy piles of books- sometimes 4-5 at a time from From Barnes & Noble. From the book sale at the library... They would be about subjects to which I had an interest but I'd buy them and then they would sit unread around the house in little piles just mocking me. I have probably started and abandoned more non-fiction books than I have read and I'm embarrassed by the fact that I always seem to take in more than I can handle.

Which brings me back to that woman's comment. "But you already have a book."

I did a grand book purge last year and it was really difficult for me to let go of titles that I had good intentions of reading such as, Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now." I bought it because everyone was reading and talking about it. I started it and found his writing style boring and repetitive. I understood the concept of letting go & being present within the first 10 pages and didn't need to be beaten over the head with it. Same with "A New Earth." I can't tell you how long that one sat waiting for me to read it. But Oprah raved about it so I had to get a copy. My copies of both books have since moved onto the great beyond along with a host of others.

I think maybe more than anything, (even art supplies) books are my feel-good purchase- like that big bowl filled with macaroni and cheese that you know you will later regret. All my life through good times and bad, books have remained my constant. When I was sad or lonely I could always just reach out and there was one of my favorites waiting to comfort me like a dear old friend. They so easily let me tune out the world around me when it was less than a forgiving place.

These days it's pretty easy for me to let go of old fiction, but I still struggle and judge myself for either having purchased too many non-fiction books I haven't yet read, or for having started and abandoned them.  

Do you have the same issues with books or are you able to keep a better handle on what you buy and what you read?

*Note - of the books above, I think I kept two and I'm not sure I read any of them cover to cover.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New Biffybeans Colorful Mandala Video now on YouTube

I've been wanting to create a new art video for a while, and it was much easier to create this using iMovie than anything I'd tried on my old PC. It was also fun & easy to compose the music in Garage Band. (8 different loops - makes me feel like a genius!) This video features work created in late 2010 through June 2011. Mixed media works include pieces in acrylic, watercolor and colored pencil.

If you enjoy what I do, I'd sure appreciate if you would share this video with a friend.

New Groovy Art Video by Stephanie "Biffybeans" Smith

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Question of the day: Did it really happen?


You have a memory of something but no photos that captured it. You have no physical items related to the event. There is no one who can corroborate your experience. All you have is your memory.

So like the proverbial tree falling in the woods, did the event which created the memory actually happen? And how is this different from a lucid dream?

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Forgive me Lucy

050311 002

Many years ago I worked with a woman named Lucy. She was Spanish and her ability to speak/understand English wasn't great. She was a sweet person and we became friends - as I was initially taken by her kind nature and determination to learn English so she could get a good job to take care of her children. (I don't think she was married.) I drove her home on one or two occasions, (I don't think she had a car) and from what I can remember, she was either living in or staying with someone who lived in public housing. She invited me into her house- a Christmas tree filled with lights illuminated the living room...

This was at a time in my life when I was very self-absorbed and unfortunately, I grew impatient and annoyed at the language barrier between us and I stopped being Lucy's friend. I remember us going out to dinner and my not wanting to be there because her limited language skills kept her talking about the same subjects over and over. I just wanted to take her home. When she left the job where we had been working, I was actually glad. She'd call me once or twice more after that and I'd always have an excuse for not being able to talk. Thinking back on this behavior makes me feel sick because I lacked, well... everything. Empathy, grace, compassion.... Ugh.

I know that sometimes I can be really hard on myself and time may have exaggerated the events and my actual behavior, but all I know is that whenever I pass the area where she used to live, I feel embarrassed by how I remember treating her. She was never anything but kind to me and after the novelty of our friendship wore off, I treated her like an inconvenience.

I don't remember her last name or anyone who might have known her so I haven't a clue where she might be- and if I bumped right into her right now, I'm not even sure I'd remember what she looked like.

Lucy wherever you are, I'm really very sorry. I hope you may forgive me.

Monday, June 6, 2011

I always knew it would be a hot dog that would do me in

Real Hot Dogs

Five years ago, after watching a television show called "How it's Made" and seeing the way baby chicks were processed via conveyer belts and tossed down big tubes after a worker would determine their sex, I cried. I said out loud to no one in particular, "I don't think God intended his animals to be treated that way."

In only a short amount of time, I completely removed meat, (fur and feathers) from my diet. I technically became a "pescatarian" or one who eats dairy, eggs  and fish. While my decision to stop eating meat was purely ethical, I do understand that the other products I would continue to consume may still have been sourced through less than optimal conditions. (Yes... I also continued to eat certain cheeses knowing rennet was used as part of the process.)

I'm not really sure if I gained any health benefits because of my meat abstinence, but I sure took great care in making sure I wasn't consuming it. Do you have any idea how diligent one must be to ensure there is no chicken bouillon in your rice mixes or even your vegetable soup bases? If you are eating convenience foods of any kind, you may often see "natural flavors" listed with the spices and when I contacted one company, they said that these spice blends of "natural" flavors were sourced n such a way that they couldn't guarantee them to be animal free. Sigh.

I will be the first to admit that I'm not the healthiest eater and it only seemed to get worse when I stopped eating meat. All the pasta, cheese sandwiches, pizza... It's a chore to find good quality fresh fruits and veggies in the winter and so much easier to eat the carbs, carbs, carbs....

Before I stopped, my first thought was to continue eating it but to only buy the grass fed, no antibiotic, steroid-free, free range types of meat but I didn't think I could stick to that. I was concerned that I lacked the willpower to do it and would quickly be back to buying factory farmed meat- and so I just cut it all out of my diet.

For the first few years I wouldn't allow any meat products into the house and luckily, my husband was a good sport about it. (Though I'm sure he'd chow down on the occasional Whopper to compensate.) I wouldn't even order a pizza for him with meat on it, I'd make him call it in. But sooner or later I started feeling bad about him eating all those soy burgers and I would bring him home chicken patties, a box of Bubba burgers... I even went so far as to buy ground meat and bake him a meatloaf. (Hands shaking, he squealed with delight as he took the first fork full...)

But hot dogs? Herein lies the problem. I've always loved hot dogs and they were probably the thing I missed the most and I couldn't stand the smell of them cooking - because I wanted them. The smell of a grilled hot dog would actually make me somewhat hostile, and though I'd very occasionally buy them for The Jeff, he had strict instructions to only cook them when I was out of the house.

I can't tell you how many times I just wanted to go and buy a sack filled with Potsie's Hot Dogs along with a quart of chocolate milk. (A local thing.) I once even worked up the nerve to walk in to Potsie's and order a few "condiment" dogs. Steamed rolls with American cheese style Cheese Whiz, mustard and sweet onions. Though I feared laughter and judgement, they were happy to oblige.

But then one day at the farmer's market, I saw a sign. "Old Fashioned Hot Dogs." Growing up on Oscar Meyer's and graduating to Ball Park's as an adult, I shouldn't even know what an old fashioned dog is... Enter my friend Lisa.

My friend Lisa's grandfather was a butcher. He used to make what I assume would now be referred to as "old fashioned" hot dogs. She once told me the story of how her mother, long after her Pappy had died, had found a decade old pack of those hot dogs buried in the bottom of the deep freeze. To answer your question, yes. They most certainly ate them and relished every bite. When I saw that sign, I thought that maybe The Jeff would enjoy a special treat of these old fashioned hot dogs and so I bought a package along with a loaf of sourdough bread to eat them with.

Once I get home, The Jeff cooks the dogs on the Foreman grill while I am outside. When I come back in, I do not smell anything I would associate with the regular scent of a grilled dog. (Mmmm.. smells good in here...) I watch him as he carries the plate into the living room and sits on the sofa. I am turned completely around in the chair as I watch him take the first bite. I ask him, "Are they good?" "Oh my God...." he responds. I say, "I really want one." I turn around in the chair and try and watch tv. I hear the casing snap with each bite he takes. I can't take it.
I go into the kitchen and look at the remaining hot dogs sitting on the plate. My mouth is aching. I am salivating. I look at the meat and because I know that these were ethically sourced, I am confused. I'm asking myself. But isn't that what it was all about? Ethics? While some might argue that eating any kind of meat is unethical, my reasons didn't seem to apply here. I heard a voice in my head, "If you want it, just eat it. It doesn't make you a bad person. You are at least conscious of your actions."

So I open a drawer and grab a fork and knife. The Jeff yells, "What are you doing?" (Like I'm about to smoke crack.) I cut off a piece about two inches long and I lift it to my nose and inhale deeply. I almost cry, it smells so good. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" he yells from the other room. I respond, "I'm an adult that can make my own decisions." and I take a bite. Oh dear god.... Five years to take a bite of the best hot dog I've ever eaten. Ever. I wrap the rest in sourdough bread and put some Gulden's spicy brown mustard on top. Seriously - best hot dog in the whole world. And though I'd like to stop at one, I can't. I eat a second one sans bread, and it is at this time, The Jeff is snapping pictures of me with his cell phone camera. For what? To blackmail me? To out me to my vegetarian friends?

As the years wear on, I've noticed at certain female times of the month that my energy levels have been tanking- think anemia. I've also seemed to have developed digestive problems related to certain raw vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and cabbage. Oily melted cheeses set my gallbladder a fire. So though I could probably be more assertive with what I eat and consume, I had been pondering whether or not the introduction of a small amount of organic meat to my diet might be a god thing. So we'll see. I've eaten three different things since that day. Nitrate free bacon from the farmer's market, and some chicken labeled under a brand that claims them to be cage free, veg fed, antibiotic free and steroid free.

Time will tell if this is the right decision for me, but I am going to put it out there that my intention is to remain diligent against eating any meat that is factory farmed. And next week? Maybe some pork shoulder for pork and sauerkraut... Oh my.....

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tomorrow night- June 4th, Join me for The Girlie Show Summer Art Opening Extravaganza in Easton, PA

"Seek" For the upcoming Girlie Show Exhibit at Suddenly Samantha in Easton, PA

This piece is entitled "Seek" and is one of 4 of my paintings included in "The Girlie Show." The opening is tomorrow night - will you join me? 

The Summer Art Opening of The Girlie Show features 10 feline artists and a night to remember with This Way To The Egress as the featured band! They have a Gypsy/Punk/Burlesque sound that will bring the beautiful madness and mayhem that Suddenly Samantha wants to share with you!

The 10 lovely ladies contributing artworks to the show are as follows:

Gina Creazzo
Heather Haas
Kerri Poole Sora
Natasha Morales
Melissa Masser
Natalie Hyczko
Laura Jasorka
Stephanie Smith <--That's Me!
Margarita Daly
Jessica Jones

There will be munchies and frosty beverages. Please feel free to pass the donation bucket around for the band and to help Suddenly Samantha keep this great tradition of celebrating music and art alive in the Lehigh Valley. View the event on Facebook.

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, June 4 · 7:00pm - 11:00pm

Location Suddenly Samantha (Grand Eastonian Hotel)
140 E Northampton St
Easton, PA
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