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

Friday, October 4, 2013

Raven: The Reason Why

Find this Raven in the Encyclopedia of  Santa Fe!
Raven appears as trickster and bringer of magic in stories that fly through time and territory, his cleverness ultimately providing humans with surprising benefits.  
 Enduring creatures, Ravens appear in the Lascaux cave paintings, the Bible, Babylonian flood myths, Norse, Celtic, and Native American stories and more. Raucous, rowdy, defiant, sensual and smart, their cleverness is admired by scientists, their mystery acknowledged throughout world cultures.
A jewelry maker from Boston, graduate of the esteemed North Bennet Street School, gave a print of this Raven to a dear friend in New Mexico who knew the pleasure of sitting with her dog named Bear and talking to ravens. Soon after the dog died, a raven feather appeared on the front stoop. The owner believes that the feather is a message from Bear.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hummingbird Etiquette

Hummingbirds,  almost ready to fledge outside my studio in Santa Fe

      A hummingbird flew into my studio, landing on the wide window sill where she fluttered between the glass and a wood cut-out of two flamenco dancers. Her emerald wings winked at the edges of the woman’s ruby skirt.
To save her, I cupped that tiny bird made of air and magic in my hands.
Quiet, she brushed the side of her beak along my finger
Eyes bright and dark, she looked at me.
Curious, I think.
I wanted to ask her what she’d seen on her journeys.
I wanted to invite her to stay and build a nest out of spider webs.

What I wanted, though, wasn’t the point,
So I walked her to the open doorway and opened my hands.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Baby bunnies!

A mug of early morning coffee at the ready, I am about to open my laptop when a miniature storm hits the garden.. Dry earth the color of a brown paper bag flies through the air as the largest of three resident rabbits digs a third tunnel right through the daffodil bulbs. Another rabbit hops in to graze under the bird feeder about 7 feet away. Digger Rabbit, who appears to be chewing a daffodil bulb, gives chase. They race across open space so dry the weeds crackle under their feet, and out of my sight. Digger soon returns to resume excavating as does the intruder rabbit, who hides in the shadows of a low spreading juniper. In just those few minutes that I turned my eyes away, Digger completely covered and camouflaged the new entrance and is aggressively chasing a very large ground squirrel. Ka-whap! With a body blow and a ninja rabbit kick, the squirrel is momentarily airborne and as soon as it lands, Digger chases it. Turns out Digger is protecting her subterranean babies who emerge right by my feet as I sit outside soon after sunset.
Four inch desert cottontail                       photo by Beth Surdut

            Had I leafed through the newspaper or tunneled my way through a book about animal behavior, or checked my messages, I would have missed seeing 3 adult rabbits of varying sizes, 2  baby bunnies about the size of the palm of my hand, 2  pairs of plump scaled quail, 1 pair of grey and white doves, many red-breasted house finches and their dun-colored mates, 2  robins,  a curved-bill thrasher couple , 2 broad-tailed hummingbirds, 2 chickadees, 1 goldfinch, 1 piñon jay, 1 small woodpecker, 1 raven, 1 juniper titmouse, 2  whiptail lizards,  2 fence lizards, 1 stinkbug, and a canyon towhee.
           All I had to do was pay attention.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ten Generations en la troca

Ten Generations from Listening to Raven series by Beth Surdut

La troca (the truck) is as iconic here in New Mexico as Trickster Raven-- the older rounded forms made by man mimic the languid curves and patinas of this high desert that color my soul. 
The Listening toRaven~Drawings, Myths and Realities series of intricate drawings and stories is the current focus of this blog and my professional life. From Alaska to Australia, Croatia, Canada, and all over the map, people contact me with raven tales.  

In Alaska, Mark has been caring for ravens and eagles for the past 18 years. Although there are certainly professional nature photographers with admirable patience, skill, and talent, this man’s love is uniquely communicated through his actions and photographic documentation of his avian friends. His photographs and the stories he tells me gave flight to this drawing as well as  The Ravens of Truth and Memory which nods to the Norse God Odin’s ravens.
Mark writes: I must say I think your drawing of Raven is the best that I have seen yet...
 Raven flew over the office of the apartment complex where I worked. I put some meat out for him and soon he came down and got it. Next, he brought his partner and although she was much more tentative they both started stopping by each day. I started to develop a call that sounded like when the male Kushka called the female Feathers. After time, when I called, they would come down off the mountain. That summer, I noticed that they brought their fledge down to my truck and from that time on I became their babysitter.
  After 10 generations of fledges, I believe the original couple moved on and now all their children come back in the winter to live nearby cause they know I will have food for them if times get bad.
Speaking of la troca: I carried Martha Egan's collection La Ranfla (The Ride) to the mechanic's while he fixed my brakes-- I read the entire collection, nodding and grinning, wondering if I should go looking for a literate cowboy and a good cash crop, when Guapo brought me to tears right there in a chilly waiting room.
When your friends back East ask what New Mexico is about, send them this book. Then get them out here, drive them around in a troca, show them the land and sky and a good taqueria, reading them Jim Sagal's Unexpected Turn if you can find a copy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Shapeshifting with Ravens

Three ravens photo by Beth Surdut 2013

Watching three black ravens ride the breezes near my studio, wings silvered by the sun, I think I would exchange my human form so I could swoop and play with them in the borderless New Mexico sky.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Nuns, Pagans, and being fully human

I’ve been best friends with a pagan for 30 years, so you’ll understand how unsettling it is to see her dressed up as Mother Superior, a role so unlike the range of wildly experimental and classic pieces in her repertoire.
Actress Lynn Sharp Spears Climbs Every  Mountain
   Considering Lynn Sharp Spears is a professional actress/singer/director/set designer/make-up artist (that’s a short list) and has the voice of a powerful fallen angel, I know why she is currently receiving standing ovations in The Sound of Music in Baltimore.
    Nuns and art also convene in a life-sized cabinet carved by Massachusetts-based Nancy Carroll, whose business is aptly called Luna-C Arts. 
Artist Nancy Carroll gets into a nun's drawers
I profiled Nancy for The Middlesex Beat in 2002:
There’s nothing quite like a classic black dress and red high heels to make  a statement, especially if the black is a nun’s habit and the red shoe seems, in this case, to be on the wrong foot.
“There’s a full human being in here,” said artist Nancy Carroll as she approached her sculptural cabinet, “Bad Habits.” She put her hands on the cold-water faucet knobs of the nun’s breasts and when she opened the doors; dance music started to play. Inside was all pink and fluff-- pink Marshmallow Fluff®.
            “Go ahead,” urged Carroll, as I gingerly pulled open the nun’s drawers edged in carved ruffles and filled with memorabilia of Carroll’s experience as a novice. (She did not become a nun.)
            When she tallies up the time involved in making her basswood nun cabinet, she figures 330 hours of planning, designing, carving, joining and painting and, oh yes, 53 years.

I find the idea of being pigeon-holed into any particular style antithetical to being an artist and a person. Although their unique abilities to portray nuns made the news for both Lynn Sharp Spears  and Nancy Carroll , each artist continually expands into uncategorizable realms linked by curiosity about the next step forward. When someone asked an NPR correspondent to describe what I did, she responded that I was "a creative polymath." I think that describes us all--without boundaries. As Nancy said, “There’s a full human being in here.”

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ashes to Art-- Support Colorado Firefighters

The  Survivor by  Beth Surdut for The Ashes to Art Project

I am one of more than 70 artists nationwide participating in The Ashes to Art Project, creating artwork to raise funds for firefighters. Incorporating charcoal collected from the 2012 Colorado wildfires, the artworks are being sold October 7-21, 2012 via an online auction at Bidding for Good
The Survivor,,  is a three-dimensional shadow box  featuring a pigment print of a young raven standing on branches drawn with charcoal from the Colorado fire. In front of the raven is a collection of charred wood taken from the forests devastated by the flames.

The people in Colorado are my neighbors. The firefighters are my heroes. I just want to help.

The fight to save lives, homes and forest took a tremendous toll. Three lives and more than 600 homes were lost, including several belonging to firefighters. More than 250,000 acres were burned. Proceeds from the online auction will be used to replace equipment for the Poudre Canyon Volunteer Fire Protection District in Colorado, near the worst fire damage and the area where the charcoal was collected.
By nature's power and whim, I could just as well have been in their situations.
I think speaking up,  stepping out in some way is important. I watched the Las Conchas fires encroach on Los Alamos last year here in New Mexico and wrote about the habitat destruction in Orion Magazine.
For my ongoing Listening to Raven series of drawings and collected stories of science and spirit, one of the myths I've come across is that Raven was a beautiful white bird who brought fire to humanity.  While carrying the burning firebrand across the skies, Raven's white feathers became irrevocably blackened by the smoke as he flew. Other stories, especially the trickster tales, put Raven in dire circumstances that he really shouldn't survive. Yet he sometimes literally suffers terrible wounds, puts himself back together, and goes on, as we do-changed, but anticipating the next phase of life.I  hope a  viewer sees and  feels a  piece of  their own story in The Survivor. "
 To view and bid on original artwork, including The Survivor by Beth Surdut, visit Bidding will take place October 7-21, 2012.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rosh Hashanah

Aspen Vista by  Beth Surdut
The glorious carpet of golden aspen and evergreens accessed at Aspen Vista, just above the city of Santa Fe, is lift-your-heart gorgeous. Hikes from there can be an easy stroll or leg-burning and literally breath-taking challenges starting at over 7.000 feet and climbing upward.

Rosh Hashanah brings the anticipation of  another year as I create a custom tallit that contains a thank you-- Blessed are you, Adonai,  Ruler of  the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
 Invitation by Beth Surdut
May you walk in beauty and be sustained through life's challenges.