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Inspiration From the Ashes

Life is a bed of roses!

You know what? The last time I checked, not all of us live and breathe in a Disney movie. Sometimes things can look pretty bleak. It is unfortunate how easy it is to slip into a vicious circle of hopelessness and despair. We’ve all been there at one point or another and hey, we might slip again in the future. Perhaps this question sounds familiar: “Why me?” The real question to ask is “What now?”

To give you a little insight on why I chose to write “Inspiration From the Ashes” I thought I’d share something personal. The past couple months have been a little rocky to say the least. We recently learned that our pet chicken, Hops, has intentional cancer and we have been in a very sad place. After a week at the vet we brought her home wondering how many days left we would have with her. The first night home was sleepless. We woke up in mini-panics whenever she’d fluff her feathers and we’d stare intently at this poor little bird who would stare back as if to say, “What the heck is wrong with you two?!” The next day I did what I usually do: have breakfast with Angel (my umbrella cockatoo), return some e-mails, then check on Hops every 15 seconds to make sure she was doing ok. It was a nice day so I threw a couple of blankets on the porch and brought Hops outside so she could get some sunshine. I decided to flip on the electricity and melt some wax. Hey, I might as well do some art if I’m keeping my chicken company…

While Hops settled in I looked at my messy, waxy workspace and smelled that wonderful aroma of beeswax in the air. I learned a pretty cool technique a couple years ago from my R&F Advanced Teaching Workshop instructor, Laura Moriarty. It’s not my first go-to technique but I thought it would be fun to just practice something outside my wheelhouse. This particular process is all about texture through repetition of brushstrokes. With each stroke the wax will catch on the micro ridges that are created. Eventually a very organic-looking texture pattern builds into a unique (yet somewhat delicate) work of art. I began carving or incising patterns into the first layer of wax to “train” my brushstroke texture. A spiral here, a square there, a long “S” shape curving down a panel. I started experimenting with colors next, “Hops, which one should I use? Pthalo blue? OK!” Beautiful blues transformed into purples, deep oranges into sunburst yellows. Before I knew it I was hooked.

Time flew by and soon I had created a small collection of mini encaustic “succulents”. The whole process was very meditative and I used this simple technique to take my mind off my sadness – and it worked! I would show my small creations to Hops and she’d cluck saying, “Is this something I can eat?” I came back to the wax the following day, and Hops was content to roost on her blanket next to me. Soon Hops and I were both in a much better frame of mind. She was more comfortable at home, eating, dozing, and doing the little things that chickens do. I was more relaxed and happy to see her feeling better.

The day came when I had to go back to work and I was allowed to bring my chicken-in-a-basket along with me – thanks boss! I set up a small area for her in the back of the store and my buddies at work got to meet my little friend. My co-worker’s mom, Kathy, was down the street so she swung by to take some photos and see what the commotion was about. I told her Hop’s story and how she was at work so I can give her medicine and keep an eye on her. As it so happens, Kathy is a preschool teacher. She was so inspired by Hop’s story that she turned it into a lesson for her students. The lesson was on kindness to animals. “When your tummy hurts your mom and dad take care of you and make you feel better right? We need to do that for our animals too!”

I don’t really know why I’m always surprised whenever I see the magic chickens are capable of. A lot of times I will hear, “But it’s a chicken!” My usual response is: “Well of course she’s a chicken! Did you know that chickens purr?” It all goes downhill from there, quite often with a barrage of iPhone photos. Perhaps life would be less stressful if we kept our distance from things that make us sad. You have to wonder if going down that road might make life a little smaller. Without Hops there would be less art in the world and one fewer lesson on Kindness to Animals. My animals are extraordinary and what we’re going through with Hops is painful. It must be a conscious choice to acknowledge the pain but not dwell in it. This is an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute effort and maybe we’ll slip once in a while. We’re not perfect beings – we’re human beings. What would humanity be without Love?

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