Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Choose your audience carefully

The  Regal Horned Lizard, pointed and crenelated, stubby and shy, was so intent on watching a grasshopper on my front  stoop that  neither one moved when I appeared.
Patience, such patience, I thought as I stood next to the lizard, admiring him with my camera.
Grasshopper did not move.
My camera snapped at them.
Lizard glanced at me, then back to Grasshopper.
Snap, said my camera.
Lizard did not twitch. Grasshopper held his ground.
So smart, I thought. Grasshopper knows the speed of a lizard.
Playing it  safe, I thought.
Oh, the wisdom of the wild.

I shifted my stance and Lizard lost his focus,
scuttled into the blue agave whose
spines would protect him from me.
Grasshopper did not move.
Closer inspection allowed.
Surely, Grasshopper would leap now.
But it is hard to leave when one leg is stuck to the  pavement
Impossible to leave when
you are dessicated
perfect, but dead.

The Regal Horned Lizard (horned toad, Tumamoc in the language of Tohono Oodham)
and I, with more names than I shall list,
had patiently stalked a dead grasshopper.

One foot stuck in place can
impede your progress
You could stay there, looking perfect
until you die, an object of curiosity
and eventually
Someone might notice that
you haven't moved and
the living would move on.

There is a video crawling round the web
the courtship dance of a male
peacock spider, so named
for his brilliant display.
Such a dance he does!
Choreographed as if for Vegas
His legs, like arms, kicking
like a chorus girl
waggling her sequined behind
On and on he goes
Giving his all
"Look at me! Notice me! Pick me!"
But she is silent
Dead, like the grasshopper.

Take notice who you dance for
Choose your audience carefully.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

All Things Considered

A few weeks ago, I sat in a study group under artificial light in a darkly paneled room with no windows. 
The teacher pontificated, "We have all lost our sense of wonder."
He shook his head sadly and continued his lecture on ancient theological arcana. 
Speak for yourself, mister, and get a window. Better yet, get outside where all your senses can spark if you pay attention. One glorious place to breathe in and explore is right in the city.
I'll Fly Away- Saturniid Moth-- silk painting by Beth Surdut (sold)
 The butterfly house at the Tucson Botanical Gardens is a steamy world of small wonders.
It is also a kind of coming home for me.
Tucson Botanical Gardens
Orchid Society by Beth Surdut
The years I spent in the jungles and rivers in Hawaii and Florida
Butterfly islands design by Beth Surdut
Tucson Botanical  Gardens Butterfly House
TBG Butterfly House
Hibiscus Varietal-OOAK hand  painted silk woman's top by Beth Surdut
  introduced me to the mysteries of orchids, hibiscus, epiphytes,
Dendrobates ventriculatus @Tucson Botanical Gardens
 and dendrobates, tiny colorful frogs with a poisonous reputations and Latin names so satisfyingly  fun to say: ventriculatus, histrionicus, tinctorus.
Painting by Beth Surdut of dendrobates ventriculatus @Selby Gardens
After a volunteer checks to see that no butterflies are hitching a ride on me,  I stand in each realm of the botanical gardens, seeing what I have already painted and drawn, and planning what I want to do for a solo exhibition in the lovely gallery that was the home of people who absolutely delighted in nature's beauty. Every element extends an invitation to me as a visual storyteller and writer, illustrator and designer. In turn, what I create will, I hope, both please and inspire, and come full circle so that people will follow the path from my art to the fascinating beings and habitat that causes me to pick up pen and brush.
An otherwise shy lizard, big and handsome, flaunts his spiny blue back as he pauses in front of me and turns his head to give me a sideways look. I can tell you that his sense of wonder and mine are still intact.
Armored Chameleon (detail) painting by Beth Surdut (original and prints available)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Here be dragons

After a hard day of walking on pavement, she was glad to be home

This little dragon, a Regal Horned Lizard, is stalking a grasshopper on my front stoop.

Somewhat coy, this Desert Spiny Lizard and I circled each other this morning and yesterday.

Pomegranate Stain (2" x 60") by Beth Surdut
Pomegranate Stain lizard detail by Beth Surdut

Mayhuel and her many headed El Dragon by Beth Surdut  

El Dragon, stuffed , trying to escape the studio

El Dragon, painted silk (pre-stuffing) by Beth Surdut

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fifty Shades of gorgeous
Really, who needs handcuffs when you can tie your lover up in these beauties?
Hand painted silk art-to-wear by Beth Surdut, Visual Storyteller
Take to the mountains and the Milky Way in this deeply passionate Night Fall~Sangre Mountains scarf.
Surprise comes in #FiftyShades. In this silk scarf, lapis, coral and jade reflect the high desert.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Monday, November 24, 2014

The educated conversation at the butcher's

For many more years than not, I haven’t eaten four-legged animals, but somehow fish, I could eat. So when yesterday, in a small market, displayed in crushed ice, a pink grouper’s head attached to maybe half a body caught my eye with its clouded one, I asked the affable young butcher for a pound, or a bit less.
As I talked with a retired English teacher wanting red snapper, who told me there was no teaching anymore unless it was in a private school, BANG! The butcher slammed a mallet down on the knife perched on the bone of the grouper.

He laid the slice of delicate pink flesh on the scale.
“Only half a pound,” he said, disappointed.
I couldn’t stand witness to another hacking.
“I’ll take it; it’s fine,” I told him and turned back to the English teacher and said,
“I went to a private school. Quaker.”
She touched my arm and said, “Then you are educated.”

The slab of fish leaked a bloody spot in the refrigerator overnight. Though I had lost my taste for the idea of it, I laced it with garlic and spices, broiled it, and gave it to the dog who, the breeder had said, was the dumbest she’d ever raised. 
Not educated.
The Conversation by Beth Surdut

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Nature of Being

Everyone Wants You When You're Beautiful by Beth Surdut
Being in nature is a succession of moments that imprint all my senses. Every walk, every paddle, every buzz, rustle, call, chirp, and squeak informs my creativity as an artist and writer. Just as we take in and process information differently, so do my experiences translate differently even within my own brain and subsequent output.
The part of me that loves detail--knowing the exact conformation and coloration of feather and petal, genus and species--picks up pencils and pens to render what qualifies as scientific illustration. 
Baby Bunny by Beth Surdut
Another part of me reacts to color viscerally, judges art on its “edible” appeal, meaning that my first and strongest impression of colors is that they are so juicy I want to lick them no matter what they represent.
There are places—a moss-covered forest trail, a dappled stream, a shadowed slot canyon, an expansive night sky-- that invite me to walk in and lose my edges until they shimmer as I become part of them. There is art that does the same. 
The subtlety of gators by Beth Surdut
            What does this say about being outside in nature? My essence is re-colored by each experience. We are already truly integrated if we permit ourselves to pay attention and experience it. Sometimes that means putting down the canvas, the camera, the journal so we can just Be Here Now. I have read that some athletes who wear a  GoPro  camera are mortified when they forget to turn it on, that not catching the bighorn sheep on film negates the actual experience of having seen them.
 I am not only an observer, but also as a kind of chemical experiment, a magnet or perhaps a portal that, when exposed to natural beings and surroundings, takes in elements that reorganize and morph into something both new and familiar in the forms I produce.
I contend that
  • Art is not the “other”
  • Outside is not the other
  • We are not the other
  • We are vital, integrated, shining particles of this world
Breathe in the breath of the world and then see what you breathe out.
I have the good luck to be able to express verbally and visually what swirls and glimmers in and out of me. I am there to see with my eyes, my mind, my memory, not somebody else’s. What comes of experiencing nature betters me more than any indoor classroom situation. I am embraced and expanded by the particulars. And I get to share that with you. 
If not now, when? silk tallit by Beth Surdut

Friday, October 31, 2014

Smarter when you think #Raven!

When you listen to raven, that iconic trickster and smartest bird, you really will become smarter when you think! This image is "The Reason Why" drawing from the series "Listening To Raven." You can learn more and purchase museum quality signed prints on lush paper featured at The award-winning illustrated book-in-progress is still open for your personal raven encounters! Send inquiries to
Click on the image below to purchase a Smarter When You Think Raven Mug 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Drinking the Milky Way

The Milky Way pours into my mouth, sparkles in my veins.
 Silk prayer tallit "Where shall wisdom be found and where is the place of understanding" Beth Surdut

Reading about Tyler Nordgren and glorious night skies in Nautilus magazine's blog, I thought of this shawl I painted of skies over Bandelier National  Monument, and a full moon walk I was privileged to take there.

Walking with the ancients by moonlight, I joined the footfalls treading this dirt for 10,000 years. While waiting for darkness, I consulted with a resident raven who listened to my questions as the moon rose over these ancestral pueblo dwelling places. 
Raven Tell drawing by Beth Surdut

 It was a poetic night of the senses.
Of rushing water in a dry land
Of drumbeats linking the centuries
Of heartbeats calling to the dead
Of surprises. 
I will not tell you more.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tied up/Tied down

The wind comes up cold in August.
Coyotes bark in the valley
I sit on the mountain
Raven wings brushing my hair

Pay attention to me, says Raven.
I will. Tomorrow. 
Right now I’m distracted
Tied up. Tied down. 

Raven sits in the juniper
Watching me as I draw him
Looking at me
He swoops in to untie a knot

He talks to me every day.
Light glancing off his feathers
Six drawings later
My eyes are reflected in his

As I walk in the desert morning
Raven lands in front me
And finally I do.     

Monday, March 10, 2014

An invitation from Raven and Coyote

Raven  Carrying the Compass of  My Heart


Raven, Coyote and I walk together often, 
discussing who really created the Milky Way.  

Come with us. 

Breathe in the desert that sits in your mouth in the middle of the night, begging for water.
Listen to that moment when the compass stays in your pocket and you are, like all else,
a mote of dust sparkling in the sun. 

With ravens as the catalyst, the non-fiction essays, shared stories, and intricate drawings in Listening to Raven invite readers to observe, with unbounded curiosity, the wildlife that flies, crawls, and skitters along with us in our changing environment.
Share your stories. We love to hear them.
You can support the project by purchasing a print.

An informative interview about my work and award winning book-in-progress aired on Arizona Public Television March 3, 2014 and this radio piece aired March 7



Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Flying with Joseph Albers and a Russian Circus Poodle

Da plane! Da Plane!
Mural in Zen time is a three-walled Florida courtyard where I had some slapstick moments—a full can of lavender paint did the hula on my head, covering my hair and just about everywhere else while I was dive-bombed by persistently angry bees, one of which stung me before I whacked it and hastened its next incarnation. This is, after all, a tranquil meditation space.The trained circus poodle on the property only spoke Russian and, like much of the population in retiree paradise, had lousy short term memory. Each time he saw me it was a new adventure of feints and barks.

I finished highlighting the whirring propellers, thinking about Joseph Albers Interaction of Color (the only life-changing class I've ever taken), and realized that the care I put into the shadows and light on the bamboo might well be overshadowed by the plane, placed at my client's behest. (I wonder if the famous luminist painters of the Hudson River Valley School--Cole, Church or Bierstadt--were asked to throw in Rumplstiltskin?) Hiking through bamboo and eucalyptus groves in my former Hawaii home is a delicious memory, but the experience of piloting a small plane, especially through sunset, gave me delirious contentment.
100 degrees-- a dreamy bamboo forest emerged from my brush and overheated mind, blue streams and mysterious marshes surrounding a zen garden. This is Florida, where a concerned stranger who loved my artwork told me I'm going to burn in hell for eternity. Now I know why Bush won here, why 18,000 votes disappeared and very few really seemed to care. Brain fry.
In my usual 'I can do this' approach, I attended ground school after I'd flown a few times. Learning the intricacies of engines and navigation was, for me, like dancing, loving the feeling, and then being told that I had to memorize all the bones in the foot and learn how to repair them if I wanted to be a really great dancer.  I realized that the next time I hire someone to take me into some remote spot in the Amazon, I could fly the plane if the licensed pilot keels over, but I won't have a clue where we're going. It may really be about the journey, not the destination.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Amazon mysteries, gold dust geckos, birds of paradise, poison dart frogs

 Everyone wants you when you're beautiful, especially if you're a gold dust gecko... see the hand?
Everyone Wants You When You're Beautiful painting on silk by Beth Surdut
or a poison dart frog glowing in the roots of a giant fig tree
Amazon Mysteries painting on silk by Beth Surdut
Outside is 37"  square
images are approximately 21" square
Both  pieces are glassed, framed in 3" molding,  4" parchment colored matting, interior 1/2" dark bamboo borders

detail of  gold dust gecko and white bird of paradise by Beth Surdut
  Dyes, silk , resist, and magic from the mind and hands of an award-winning artist.
 $2400 each.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Say cheese

Between Taos and Embudo, NM by Beth Surdut
My heart opens with joy every time I drive the mountainous road between Taos and Embudo. The rift gorge is still aflame with golden cottonwoods leaning over the Rio Grande, and I wonder how to paint the emotions of this day. 
Glory fades as the road eventually widens and flattens into the traffic lanes and ratty median strips of Espanola where a dead dog lies bloated in the sun. Some kind of cattle dog, the spotted fur still visible—Australian or maybe Blue Heeler. The truck in the lane next to me passes, the silver trailer hitch glinting and wobbling so much that I consider honking to tell the two guys in the truck cab that something is wrong, but this being Espanola, I better be damn sure, so I speed up for a closer  look.
It’s an aluminum scrotum sack...about the size of a bull’s, complete with bulging balls and little indentation marks like rippled skin, just swinging low to the rhythm of the road.
My potential Good Samaritan act foiled, I returned to wondering how best to describe the sound of  wind moving through the cottonwood  leaves like dry  rain, or how to paint the flash of pinon jays lofting in blue notes of  surprise.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Elemental/Transcendental: The Goddess Returns

I  was one of 10 artists in Santa Fe chosen  to participate in the national Herradura Art Barrel challenge. The local judges at the event Nov  3 chose a Day of the  Dead pop art piece and gave the winner  10,000 dollars.
Elemental/Transcendental: The Goddess Returns 

As pieces of the barrel fell away from my jigsaw, I spotted a rusty horseshoe nailed to the fence. “For good luck,” I said, and set the herradura in my studio next to the silk I painted — material fine enough for a celebration at Hacienda San José del Refugio, the original home of the Herradura tequila estate.

This piece raises a glass to transformation and transcendence. Fire, perhaps from the  heated breath of El Dragon, transforms agave and oak, shapeshifting into a seductive libation coveted around the world. Here, Mayahuel, Goddess of Agave, rises from her death, her lover’s devoted tears mingling with hers to add magical elements found only in exceptional tequila.

However, there is more to this magical  story of  love, death and  resurrection...
Mayahuel's  Sorrow by Beth Surdut

How to stuff a dragon and raise a goddess:
The story begins with the fertility goddess Mayahuel being killed by a jealous rival--- chopped  into little pieces! Mayahuel's  lover, Quetzalcoatl,  cried over her remains for days and  continued to return to the place where she was  killed. The gods pitied him and gave his tears magical powers that transformed Mayahuel into the blue agave plant from which the finest  tequila is made. But  in  the  process of making  that  coveted elixir, more  destruction  ensues.

First the agaves are cut and  mutated by  fire.
Oak trees are cut down, made into barrels,and the barrels are charred on the inside to impart a  smoky  flavor to the tequila that  comes only from the Jalisco region of  Mexico, where  there is  said to  be a  black 7-headed  dragon  living  underground. No one has  actually  seen  El  Dragon, or if  they  have, not  lived to ascertain the number of  heads.

El Dragon tries to escape the studio
In order to keep the  sugar  content high in the agave, the flower stalk is cut before it can bloom into a  myriad of  tiny  yellow flowers.
Out of all this violence and destruction, the feminine divine rises.  I  started with the hard jagged edges of agave-- cutting, sanding and  painting each  stave of the barrel. (oy, such shmutz!) I painted El  Dragon on  silk, then  stuffed  him and  placed  him a in the  barrel along with  the  shadows of  two  more of his heads. The  lower  column and the tall one are  painted silk that I  attached to  heavy  lampshade  material. Each  column is  lit  with tiny lights  on the inside.Mayahuel's head  is covered with  cut  pieces if silk, wired  ribbon  edged  with  god  beads, and  plant  material  sprayed with  gold  glitter. There are  also translucent golden faceted  beads to emulate the agave  flower and droplets  of  tequila. even as she  rises, transformed, 
she cries golden tears.

Much thought, work, adhesives, and  money  went into this piece, so I'd like as many people as possible to see it before  it  gets auctioned for charity.. Please pass this along, post, tweet, or call out the link from the rooftops.

The Goddess Returns  by Beth Surdut
Dragon  shadows