Who are Your Artistic Ancestors?

Who are Your Artistic Ancestors?

If you were to name your artistic grandmother or grandfather, who would that be?

Many people have an artistic lineage that you work in response to. For instance, for my friend Teresa Smith, it is Emily Carr and the Group of Seven, the Canadian painters of the early and mid-20th Century that had a spiritual and symbolic connection to the landscape they painted. She identifies with their spiritual approach to color, and works with the landscape to bring out these symbolic and underlying themes of light, transcendence and internal essence.

Rock on Water, Teresa Smith
Rock on Water, Teresa Smith
Tree in Autumn, Emily Carr
Tree in Autumn, Emily Carr

For me, I have a LOT of artists I’m always looking at, but a few I really identify with, not just the way they paint, but the way they lived.

One of those painters that is incredibly important to me is Morris Graves (August 28, 1910 – May 5, 2001), one of the “Northwest Mystic” painters in a group of friends and creative colleagues dubbed the Northwest School, that included Mark Tobey, Guy Anderson and Kenneth Callahan, and others.

When I approached a recent assignment in the Trowbridge Atelier where I’m studying in Georgetown at Gage Academy of Art – to paint a “cornucopia,” I immediately thought of Graves’ “Summer Still Life” with its dark colors and flat perspective, amazing composition and mysterious symbology.

Picnic / Aftermath, Shannon Borg
Picnic / Aftermath, Shannon Borg
Summer Still Life, Morris Graves
Summer Still Life, Morris Graves

I created a cornucopia of my own, also set in nature, like Graves does, but in this case, located at my favorite beach, South Beach in American Camp, National Historical Park, San Juan Island. Since I was in Seattle at art school, I relied on a still-life set-up I created in my apartment, and then placed it in relation to my many photos and memory of South Beach.

my cornucopia setup in my apartment
photocollage of my idea
charcoal drawing of my idea

Then I created two canvases – one a daytime scene, and one a nighttime scene. I love how Graves’ scene is kind of in the middle – you can’t tell whether it is day or night. So I made both – and it was fascinating to work with the more abstracted shapes and try to create a sense of moonlight and how that light is different than sunlight. I took pictures of my setup at all times of day and night.

Then I flipped the image, so day and night would be mirror images of each other – kind of Alice in Wonderland meets Morris Graves.

I’ve started the “day” side of the painting
the setup for the “night” side
I flipped the night side

Having an image, an artist, a friend like Morris Graves to be by my side through this process was very comforting – like I have with me a kind teacher gently nudging me this direction or that. My Atelier teacher and mentor, Kimberly Trowbridge, is that person for me IRL – but as artists, we also need our artistic ancestors with us at all times, so we can have that dialogue with them, too.

What artists – living or gone – are you having an artistic dialogue with in your work?

Summer Still Life, Morris Graves
Picnic / Aftermath, Shannon Borg


The Today Candle

The Today Candle


At one of the many turning points in my life, a generous friend gave me a beautiful candle.

Girls love candles.

It was a stout, cream-colored, 4-inch tower in a pretty smoky-gold crackled-glass holder. The kind I would never, at the time,  spend money on for myself.

And it changed my life.

Today Candle Shannon Borg

Let me revise that … I changed my life. The candle was just – I was just – we were just – in the right place at the right time together.

With all I was going through – a lost marriage, a breakup, struggles with finances and habits, a new job, and the prospect of building a house through a low-income program that would mean working 7-days-a-week for a full year between job and construction, I knew the concept of living in the moment was what I needed to survive. Literally.  

I don’t know what happened, but the candle sparked something in me. (No pun intended!)

Inspirational Objects, oysters
Do you have an Inspirational Object
in your life?

Up to that point, I had been trying (pretty darned unsuccessfully) to meditate, to even BREATHE, to walk the beaches to calm myself, to find some inner peace I’ve heard so much about from the numerous books, websites, people and ideas I was trying to surround myself with.

It wasn’t really working.

Then I received the gift of a candle.

I wanted to look at it every day. My friend had such a calmness about her, that I felt it was infused with her friendship and love.

So I decided to make it a part of my daily ritual. To actually try to create a daily ritual.

Tentatively at first. I lit the candle and sat in front of it for a few minutes in the morning with my coffee, silent and breathing.

But one day led to three and seven, and even with stops and starts, I found that a daily ritual of lighting a candle, of breathing, of taking a few minutes to calm my mind, began to change my internal world.

“A schedule defends against chaos and whim.
It is a net for catching days.”
–Annie Dillard

That one candle was substantially larger than all the tea lights I had grouped around it on the little shrine I began to build. Pebble by shell by Buddha figurine. So I made a circle around it.

Buddha Shrine, Shannon Borg

Three small candles for “yesterdays”. I’d light them and say: Thank you, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I survived you.

Three small candles for “tomorrows” – Thank you, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Get me through this thing.

“What used to be a hunch gradually becomes
a working part of the mind.”

And then I’d light the BIG candle, the one I knew I needed to focus on, right here, right now, standing at the head of the circle. The chairman of the board, as it were.

The “Today” candle. This ritual seems so simple, but for me, this simple act led to a cascading effect – of helping me focus daily on a process of finding peace – and eventually focus and productivity in my life. And art.

South Beach, San Juan Island, Charcoal 7x10, Shannon Borg
South Beach, San Juan Island, charcoal on paper

The Today Candle led me to my art – which literally would never have happened if I hadn’t started setting some time aside to sit quietly and listen to myself and slowly figure out what I really wanted.

Do you have something in your life like the Today Candle? Something, that when you look back, you realize it was a turning point?


Thank you, FlowMagazine.com

Drawing stone with stone

Drawing stone with stone

When I visit South Beach on San Juan Island, I am amazed by the geological diversity on this edge of land. Colors of stone from white to green to pink, brown and black. Textures from soft and round as if the stone bubbled up from the sea and was frozen in time, to sharp and broken boulders, cracked apart and brought here by ice.

As with any artwork, questions must be answered before proceeding. Which point of view do I take? What do I include or edit out? What tools do I use? I try to keep it simple, looking for lines that connect and contrasts that are interesting to me. Charcoal, another mineral, is so fascinating – I used to hate how it got my fingers black and ended up on my clothing, how awkward and dark it was. But like many things, of course, I didn’t understand it. Now, I am slowly coming to love how it can be as diverse as these formations, from hard to velvety, from chunk to powder.

My psyche is always overwhelmed by the beauty and opportunity I have to draw and paint this place. I could be here every day for the rest of my life and never capture even a little of what goes on here – in glacial time, or human time.

Find my art for sale at http://fridayharboratelier.com/shannon-borg

16 Journeys

16 Journeys
16 Journeys, acrylic on paper, mounted on panel, 44x56, Shannon Borg
16 Journeys, acrylic on paper, mounted on panel, 44×56, Shannon Borg

For this large piece, first I crinkle up (yes, basically destroy) a sheet of worn, torn, old colored construction paper. Each paper is then painted in thin, dripped acrylic paint, letting the paint create its own landscape. I find connections between the random form the paint takes and the landscapes from the birthplaces of my 16 great-great-great grandparents, who came from Denmark, Sweden, Scotland, Wales and England.

These landscapes are a combination of imagined and real, from memory and dream. I love how the forms then work together as a group, as in our memories, visions are often overlapped and bumped up against each other.

Art Inspired by Oysters

Art Inspired by Oysters

Oyster shells are endlessly fascinating to me. I love the variety in their shapes and colors, depending on the species and the manner and place in which they are grown. Oysters are really what made me an artist. I started drawing them, then painting, discovering how to see and interpret what I am looking at.

Crassostrea virginica, crayon on paper, 11×17”
Oyster Phantasia, 8×8”, oil on canvas – SOLD