//Game Board Making : The Ur Variations//
Throughout my last couple months at Pitt, I partook in an internship producing and creating all of the artwork for this wonderful board game my boss Zach Horton lead and designed. It was a 5 month long process, and he had already been working on plans for it for over a year prior to when I jumped in. My jobs included sculpting, resin printing, cast and mold making, wood dyeing, laser cutting, 3D wood cutting, belt sanding, filing, painting, drawing, and lots of problem solving. It was a really exciting project to round off my experience at Pitt, and I can’t believe I get to actually say I made a board game!
There is a total of 8 different game options included in the set, all either being recreations, or new adaptations of ancient egyptian games. Every piece is handmade.
You can read up more on the project here:
(All images taken by Zach Horton, pulled from the official Pandora Games Website)
//Making Art as Ritual Practice//
Ever since I was a little kid, I was extremely fascinated with magical beings, fantasy, horror, and anything nature oriented. As I became older, a lot of it transformed, and kind of became me realizing that I am interested, and meant to be a part of a Wiccan lifestyle. From collecting rocks and gemstones at the age of five, to deciding to stop eating meat at the age of seven, I was constantly finding myself interested in the occult, and those parts of it ruling over healing through crystals, magic, and the ideas of protecting nature as the most divine thing. And on top of that, beginning from a young age, I really loved to create art. It was in first grade when I won my first county-wide award that I decided I wanted to create art forever. Growing up, art to me always was something really significant, from escaping my reality, to imagining my own world, to simply decorating my school supplies.
Art became I would do on a day-to-day basis, from the morning until the evenings. It wasn’t until I made it to fifth grade when my left to move to Germany with me and my little brother, that I stopped creating art for a while due to the culture shock and the extreme changes I had to make in day-to-day life. Couple years later still living in Germany, I had an art teacher who really made me feel like my work didn’t have to be perfect for it to be worth , that I decided I wanted to start creating again. On top of that, she reminded me of my old grade school teacher who made me feel like my art was special in the first place.
I started drawing, and sketching, and making things again. I mostly found myself creating imagery from my garden, such as flowers and strawberries outlined with Faber castell markers and painted with vibrant watercolors. I faced a lot of rough changes in my life when I first moved to Germany, so being able to draw again really helped me escape, to make me feel like a kid again. All my responsibilities seemed less hard to accomplish, knowing that at the end of the day I’d have my paintbrushes to go back to. Even the process of cleaning my brushes, and paint palettes was soothing to me.
It was around this time that I also had become even more invested in Wicca and paganism and realized that I want my art to convey that part of my life as well. As I did more research on wicca, I realized that my practice of art became somewhat of a ritual, and that so many of my odd childhood ways were actually just me being me, before I even knew who I was. And so, the processes of creating my art within nature, and focusing on nature-oriented imagery, quickly became a part of my craft as a learning witch. And so, I was creating almost every single day, and especially on those days when I wasn’t in such a good mood. The practice of creating art, to me, was like the embrace of a friend. It made me feel better at times when I thought nothing could. Art just became something I could always rely on to ground me and aid me in the process of healing.
And after I graduated high school in Germany, I moved back to Pittsburgh and decided to finish up school here as well. I realized pretty quickly that my life in Germany was very different than what it was like now back in the United States. And once kind of became the one thing I could rely on to stay the same and make me feel as good as it did before. I was in constantly changing environments and the only constant within these changing environments ended up being my art. Because even though my art was constantly changing and growing, the way it made me feel and the way it helped me grow as a person was constant. Not only that, but also the ways in which I created were becoming more sophisticated, the act of creating itself to me was still the same thing.
And as I grew up, my art did as well. I could literally see the changes in my life through my work. From the colors I used, the vibrant reds and yellows in the daffodils from my garden, to the deep matte blacks, and the dark shadows in the skulls, there was a clear distinction to be made. Anyone with knowledge of Color theory would be able to see what these things meant. Color temperature, such as cool vs warm tones, and their on moods, versus Tones, such as dark and light paints, made all the difference in the way my work makes the viewer feel. My works became a record of not only who I am, but who I was too. It’s so much more than I could’ve ever gotten from keeping a diary.
Because when you see the images, you feel what I felt while painting them. It’s magic, and it’s science too. The viewer cannot help but feel a sense of quiet when looking at dark, cool colors. It makes it so much more personal. I can still look back onto the way my work made me feel, and how it made me realize that magic must be real, because I had no other explanation for how the things I was creating, made me feel. These processes made me feel in control.
So eventually, around 2017 I had decided that I was going to go to school for art. I wanted to find a way to eventually be able to share the therapeutic aspect of art that I found within it, with others. I wanted to show how healing it can be and how it can help you heal from things in your past and understand things happening in the present. The way that the simple act of creating something and putting it into your work can make you overcome anything. It's when pain overtakes your responsibilities and you didn’t have the energy to do anything. But you had an image in your head that was too beautiful to not put on paper, so you got up, made yourself a cup of coffee, and created.
You put your body into the motion of doing something. And that’s sometimes all it takes to go from there and resume the rest of your day as if you were okay. Because you finally got something done. It was like my pain was flowing through the paint brush and into the canvas. I was slowly becoming rejuvenated. It felt like I had regained control of my feelings. And quite frankly, it made me feel magical. Any traumas I had faced, I could square away and deal with through my creations. They could keep me going when nothing else could. The pains remain a part of me, but they no longer hinder me. Plus, we’ve seen in the past how art, and music, can evoke different feelings in people experiencing them, so why shouldn’t it be the same for those creating them?
In the end, Intuition is probably to blame for how art is created, but isn’t intuition just also a part of the subconscious? A way to communicate to the individual what they already know but cannot access? This is how I think art is always so personal to the creator. Because nobody else would have made the same decisions that they did. It is a very direct form of a window into the inner workings of the artist’s brain.
It was also around this time when I started learning about Lenormand fortune-telling cards and Tarot cards, that I started using those as well to help get a better understanding of where my life is going. And when I started to see things come together and make sense of things with the help of these tools, I realized I could make my future whatever I wanted it to be. And that if I wanted to create art for the rest of my life, I could and that I would find a way. Sometimes things I was creating, weren’t even completely intentional. I’d come to noticed that a lot of the things I was feeling were coming through the surface through my work. Like a voice I couldn’t exactly locate, was telling me how to encapsulate my piece. It became, similar as fortune-telling cards, a way to read my subconscious.
And so, even when I didn’t feel like doing anything, I still would somehow find a way to create art in some way. Even if it was something as simple as doodling in a book. Because not only would creating art help me realize why I was feeling the way I was feeling, but it also often times helped me come to a solution to my problem. Coming to the realization that I do have control over my life, was a game changer. This idea specifically, the idea of manifestation also became a huge part of my craft. I learned that by accepting the things in my life for what they were, and working towards a best version myself, I was actively changing my perspective on my situation. I could become whatever I wanted to, and by allowing the bad to leave my life peacefully, I was simultaneously making space for the good to come into my life instead.
As mentioned before, Tarot became significant, and so did symbolism. I felt as though through symbols I was constantly allowing my subconscious to talk to me directly. And so, around October 2020, after spending a good bit alone in Quarantine, I decided to create something for others to learn about this wonderful process. I wanted to share my love for manifestation, intention setting, and the power of suggestion through symbolism.
I collected little stones from my favorite river trail, and began to paint on them. The goal was for them to work as a group, acting as a form of a Tarot deck, but more importantly, be able to represent something individually. Each stone had a small painting on it, a symbol if you will, and a key word. They all shared the same values in being positive messages for those who obtain them. Some wishing the receiver Love, Clarity, Strength, Healing, Rest, and many others. The first set was thirty of them, which I gifted to my Installation class last semester, and hid all around the University of Pittsburgh campus.
The words “#” were written on the back so anyone who found one could read up on its purpose. I had very positive feedback, and my favorite part about it was hearing from my classmates which ones they chose to keep, and why. Some chose “Time” because finals were close and they were overwhelmed, others chose “Flow”, because they were in desperate need of new ideas for upcoming projects. It made me incredibly happy to see I could share this gift with others, and it equally helped me feel like my work was instilling good within others because it effectively instilled a reaction within people. A positive reaction.
I can only hope it provided whatever aid, or assistance it was meant to, to the receiver. This project was very successful for me in terms of feeling in tune with my ritual practice, and love for creating spaces to heal. And I found it extremely interesting to read about Victor Turner’s interpretations of the ways people use these types of rituals.
“A ritual is a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors' goals and interests. Rituals may be seasonal, hallowing a culturally defined moment of change in the climatic cycle or the inauguration of an activity such as planting, harvesting, or moving from winter to summer pasture; or they may be contingent, held in response to an individual or collective
explanation of ritual surgency during times of crisis, hit me like a truck. And not only is it something that can be portrayed by the individual, but by a community as well. This specifically is so incredibly important to my own practice of painting as a ritual, because not only does my painting involve gestures and objects, but it is for a larger purpose. I create when I am in need of joy, and something to move towards. The act of painting induces joy within my mental state, and not only that, but allows me to both deal with and heal from anything. Healing is my goal here. I love that he references moving from winter to summer pasture as an example, but to my practice it is also a direct metaphor. One that I use myself literally all the time. The process of moving from darkness of winter, to the light of summer. From the person in need of healing to a healed individual.
And so, my art continued to grow with me and become a reflection of myself. Whether that meant the feelings and emotions I was going through at the time. Or if it meant things I was interested in at that age, my art was always reflecting myself. By 2018, I was taking part of music festivals and art markets and meeting other artists around the area. I got to share a lot of my work with them, and with that also share my healing practices. I helped a lot of people realize that their art always meant , as long as it meant something to them. Even if that something was something as simple as passing time. Or as a means to gain some serotonin.
An art club I started, eventually developed a ritual of its own of us painting, and playing music with one another as a means of not only healing, but to feed our friendship. As the pandemic hit, we were forced to move our meetings to Zoom ones, but they remained weekly gatherings. We not only supported each other by words, but also by creation. We shared ideas, works, and music tastes. This allowed us to form a safe, and healing environment with only positive reinforcement. We aided each other in artistic growth, which in turn also aided in our growth as an overall person. There is something very true about the idea that performing rituals in larger numbers can improve its effectiveness, because some of the coolest works I have created were those I created while surrounded by other painters very dear to me.
To me my art of course means a lot of different things. Some of the themes that are recurring within my work, are the ideas of life versus death, rebirth, and cycle of life. because art was used for me as a form of healing, it only made sense that at some point I would make the connection between overcoming hardships and rebirth within nature. It was the Greek goddess Demeter specifically, that made me realize my similarities within my art.
Changing seasons from winter to spring and summer to fall, made me realize that mother earth is not so different from its inhabitants. We go through changes in our life all the time, whether they’re good or bad. Sometimes those changes end up changing us. We always seem to bounce back to who we were, either as better versions of ourselves, or healed versions. And isn’t that what Spring brings with it? When flowers bloom again after having rested during the winter? We grow, we wilt, but we bloom again, and again.
And although we bounce back a bit differently, we still become a new, and beautiful version of ourselves. That is what is most important to me within my craft. Is the realization that hardship brings with it growth, and new life. I may not always know how that will present itself but change almost always brings with it new doors. New options, and chances to live life differently. A lot of my work encapsulates this idea over and over again. Both a painting of a skull overgrown by ”, February 2019, and a sculpture of a dead bird with flowers coming out of it, “State of Decay”, October 2019, represent this idea. I also have a more recent series of paintings, the “Nature Series”, 2020-2021, where skulls, flowers, and owls all make appearances, and represent the cycle of life and death again.
When it comes to the process, I usually create with acrylic paint. This remains my preferred medium simply because I often paint within nature, by a river trail, and oil simply would be too messy, and even harmful to the environment due to the chemicals in the mixing agents. I love to surround myself within the environment when I create, partially due to the beauty of it, but mostly due to the fresh air, the quiet, and the feeling of grounding myself within mother nature. It’s a wonderful little hideaway, and in the warmer months I absolutely find myself losing myself in my craft for hours upon hours.
It’s a bit different in the winter. During the cold months, I paint from the comfort of my room, which, surprise, is surrounded, and covered by plants. I also like to light candles, turn on my record player, and listen to Stevie Nicks, or the Kooks. It’s a bit of a different environment, but all the same immerses and allows me to feel a sense of comfort. The act of playing music aids in allowing me to connect with my mind, and subconscious because I think less about what I want to think about, and more about where my mind decides to go. It all aids in the process.
In the end, would life be easier if we didn’t have to go through these hardships, and if we didn’t have to find ways to cope? Probably, but growth only comes with experience and knowledge. So sometimes to grow we have to experience pain. Sometimes we have to experience those harsh winters. But sure enough, when it gets warmer, we’ll become stronger again. And not only that, but more beautiful as ever.
A lot of my paintings portray this idea exactly. I really do paint of skulls overgrown by flowers and nature. I am in love with the idea of life still coming from death. And happiness still coming from pain. We do not have to rot away within our pain. We can choose rebirth. The act of creating is me choosing rebirth over and over again. And I will continue to do so for as long as I can allow myself to. what keeps me going. A repeating ritual that I have created for myself to keep myself afloat.
I do not know if this way of thinking could work for everyone, but I think that, just as any other ritual, if you are willing to open your mind to the possibility of it, then you are already one step closer to understanding it and reaping its benefits.