down the rabbit hole, watercolour with mixed media by Canadian contemporary artist barbra edwards, Pender Island, BC
February 20 2016
Down The Rabbit Hole

A high clerestory window in my bedroom provides a view of tall fir trees. Hanging on to moss covered bluffs, winter winds often buffet these trees every which way. I’ve written in past posts about my favourite thinking time in the early morning before the rest of the world wakes up and I rush headlong into my day. For the past couple of years, as I lay awake I’ve been watching one group of branches – they’ve become the perfect, huge, shape of a rabbit’s head. Flopping ears and talking mouth. I’ve become quite attached to the creature. As the head moves I imagine how I’d draw this angle or that. Lately things have changed; branches have grown or fallen off. I’ve been forcing that rabbit head to remain but no, it’s pretty well history. My history. Yesterday morning when I opened one eye…I noticed what resembled a fox. Smaller ears, a different head angle but still with a mouth that moved. Joy!
This intuitive way to fuel my imagination takes no effort, only awareness and time. It follows hours as a kid finding shapes and forms in clouds that my parents had us searching for from the car window, or while lying on the grass.

“Down the rabbit hole” a metaphor for an entry into the unknown, the disorientating or the mentally deranging, from it’s use in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’. To enter into a period of chaos or confusion.  (dictionary)

Mental wandering like imagining the rabbit’s head is a relaxed way to observe from a fresh perspective. It’s freeing for me when my creative direction isn’t clear. In the studio I pull out various tools, using anything that helps clear my path. While painting in oil offers fluidity with variety of texture and colour, a return to printmaking and collage offers ways to play with ideas from different vantage points. I continue with watercolour because it allows intuitive work to surface without judgment on my part. Some of what is surfacing right now I’ve been writing about in my journals for years.

Like many artists, I think about how we look at art on social media. Its graphic, saturated, fast-forward way of presenting visuals completely alters how a painting actually looks or for that matter, how it feels. I confess, nothing will ever replace standing in front of a painting that completely draws me in. Delicate bits or nuanced tonal values and layers in creative work can disappear on the screen. The camera is one tool that helps bridge the gap between what I’m looking at in the studio and how it looks on the computer. By photographing a certain stage in painting, it’s literally digital free fall and can clarify decisions on idea, subject, cropping or angle. The photo highlights a painting’s strengths, composition; basically what might be missing. An example is when a painting in process presents itself a certain way. I pause, and surface from somewhere inside the painting. I may be too close to see what I’m doing or where the painting needs to go next. I can leave the painting for a while or photograph it in that pause of time. Often a solution or at least next steps appear. It saves me time re-painting sections and retains creative momentum. I have to find that balance of being aware of how art looks on the internet, but then more importantly setting that information aside and focusing on how I need to represent my own work, no matter what its internet value.

Wandering around that personal rabbit hole is an important place to visit from time to time, in spite of the unknowing and disorientation about what happens next. It’s the perfect place to push forward to another level.

 This morning the low sun caught the edges of two pillows thrown messily in a corner in the best way…shadows, folds, light. They’ve become more than pillows. In the moment I make no judgment on subject matter, the pillows are anthropomorphic forms gazing back at me. At some point in the studio these pillow shapes could inform my work in a new way. File that in one’s brain…

This painting ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ appeared quite simply, not at all chaotic as Lewis Carroll was referring to in 'Alice'... You can see more of my paintings at Winchester Galleries in Victoria, BC.

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