Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hollow Bone

In one day, songstress Ayla Nereo will be releasing her new album Hollow Bone. I've been a fan of Ayla's ever since I first heard her sing a few years ago in Berkelely at a house concert. What struck me most about her was her ability to drop down into the collective depths, gently pulling the listener with her. She sings about universal experiences of meaning, reminding the listener of truths they may have forgotten, calling us back to the source. To me, her music is rhapsodic, penetrating, and profound. 

While I've been fond of all of her music up to this point, I've really fallen in love with Hollow Bone. Ayla named it in reference to a Rumi poem which mentions being as a hollow reed. To me, the hollow reed metaphor has always referred to the process of becoming a vessel through which inspiration can flow through. That inspiration can be anything- to write a song, to create a painting, to speak the truth, to act for the benefit of others, to sit and be still, to dance... the action itself flows through an open portal. For Ayla, the songs on Hollow Bone felt as if they were received in this way. 

When she approached me to create an image for the album cover that portrayed this process of receiving inspiration and channeling it into song, I was pretty excited, yet knew it would be a tricky one to execute successfully. Portraying the physical and energetic/spiritual realm simultaneously has been an interest of mine ever since I discovered the art of Alex Grey as a teenager, yet I've never tried it myself in such a direct way. I spent quite awhile incubating the vision for this piece, keeping it in the back of my mind and letting it simmer and slowly take shape. 

Finally it was time to sit down at my desk and draw. At this phase of things, I try not to think too much and instead just allow ideas to sprawl across the paper. The image that emerged showed an archetypal tricephalous female, often called the triple goddess or triple deity, which surfaces in mythology all over the world, from ancient paganism (Maiden, Mother, and Crone) to Christianity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Above her head is a scarab beetle, which the ancient Egyptians associated with creativity and the creator god Atum. The forward-facing woman is receiving a channel of light from the scarab above her head, which is being funneled through the side-facing women as song. 

When I took the sketch to the next phase, I didn't use any reference for the drawing of the primary woman's face. In keeping with the notion of the hollow reed, I drew straight from my mind, pulling this face out of the mist and into the physical realm. Creating this image was definitely a journey. At one point, I stayed up until 5 a.m. trying to meet the deadline, only to make a silly technical error in Photoshop which basically destroyed the previous 10 hours of work I had just done. Despite that mishap (from which I learned some very important lessons), it was a joy to create this piece and I'm just so happy and honored to have been asked to do so. 

The first sketch.
In progress, taking it to a finish with Photoshop.
The finished piece. 

Ayla was a delight to work with through the whole process of taking the piece from a sketch to a finished image. I really couldn't imagine a better client to work with nor could I ask for a more engaging idea to create into an image. I'm so grateful to Ayla for asking me to be a part of Hollow Bone, and I hope that you all get a chance to hear her songs. 

Listen to the story told by the reed,

of being separated.

"Since I was cut from the reedbed,
I have made this crying sound.

Anyone apart from someone he loves
understands what I say.

Anyone pulled from a source
longs to go back.

At any gathering I am there,
mingling in the laughing and grieving,

a friend to each, but few
will hear the secrets hidden

within the notes. No ears for that.
Body flowing out of spirit,

spirit up from body: no concealing
that mixing. But it's not given us

to see the soul. The reed flute
is fire, not wind. Be that empty."