Art During a Pandemic

bold, graphical watercolor of cedar tree with a wash of blended colors to depict the foliage.

The workday ended and I replaced  jeans with sweats. However I was very restless with cabin fever.  To shake it off, I usually walk a couple of miles through the Saginaw Chippewa Reservation; our home borders tribal property.  This evening the sleet, cold, and icy north wind was discouraging and I walked in the same conditions on the prevous two days. Painting or website development came to mind but that would involve more sitting-which I had been doing all day.  I decided to create a large painting, use big brushes, and most importantly, stand. I looked through my Flickr photos for inspiration and chose a cedar tree for reference. Painting big brushstrokes is very freeing as opposed to sitting down hunched over the paper while working on smaller subjects. 

Northern White Cedar is native to Michigan and always present wherever I lived. As a teen I sometimes use the fragrant boughs as a sleeping mat and fuel for the campfire when roughing it in the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The wood smoke is wonderfully scented.     

I have often drawn and painted cedars. The bark swirls around limbs and hints at ancient, gnarly life. I drew the sketch on the right one evening along the banks of the Chippewa River at a nature preserve called Sylvan Solace. Written on the sketch is “giizhik”, the Ojibwe word for cedar.  Burning of the greenery is a form of purification, and giizhik is one of the four sacred herbs of the Anishinabek, along with tobacco, sage, and sweetgrass. Cedar used to be called “Arbor Vitae” which is Latin for “Tree of Life.

I am very thankful that painting and this tree helped me get though the frustrations of our current times. Creating reminds me that I’m still free and an expressive being and I’m very grateful! I’ll think I will smudge with some cedar soon. 

Thank you for reading my very first blog post! I would appreciate a comment and some constructive criticism.

23 Responses

  1. Congrats on opening your website Mike. Even though I’ve followed your work for years now, I am amazed at your large body of work! So much talent. This is a great platform to share your many gifts and I enjoy the user friendly layout. With our natural world needing all of the good press we naturalists can muster, this is just wonderful. I’ve definitely bookmarked to return again. Good job, my friend 🙂

    1. Thanks. Yeah Flickr in those days gave me all the reinforcement I needed to keep making art. I keep paying for my pro account due to the thousands of images on it.

  2. We have cedar trees all along our river bank. I never knew all of this. And, can you tell me, where does one find sweet grass? Does it still grow naturally in Michigan? Your art work is wonderful! I look forward to seeing much more!

  3. I’m also studying the photo of the steps and art work. One of my pandemic projects is going to try and build steps down to the river where the bank is steeper. I’m going to use this as a model.

  4. Thanks Susan, sweetgrass is common and often smelled when long grass or a meadow is cut. At a pow wow in Hannaville I learned to identify it-not sure I could now I just remember the feel was different and a different sheen compared to other grasses

    1. There is a small field of sweet grass at Lake Isabella. I also have a friend who grows it but we can only harvest it in August. Blessing Judy

  5. Great stuff, Michael. I’ve been fascinated by your work for quite some time. Nice to see more and read the insights. May be an “amid the pandemic” story here.

  6. I love all of this, Mike. The following line best of all: “Making this painting reminds me that I’m still free and an expressive being and I’m very grateful!”

    Love your trees. The top ones embodies the primal power of an old tree.

    May we all follow your lead and get in touch or stay in touch with our free most inner selves and the ways in which our particular being needs to express itself. And may the arts help pull us through this trying time.

    Miigwech and congrats on your new endeavor, niiji.

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