Tag Archives: barefoot justine

The Bear

Standard
TheBear

TheBear

The Bear
by Justine

A bear, the beast upon my chest, a cumbrous coat of want and greed,
If I could move I could not breathe for suffocating need,
If I could move it’s teeth would bare, wide eyed would I recede,
This bear it pins me in my place, my life it does impede.

His gums are black, his teeth are yellow, and bloodstained all around,
His beastly fur darker than nights when stars dare not shine upon the ground,
His breath the sea and undertow in which so many lost souls have drowned,
Beneath sharp black eyes I tremble still, and my senses he does astound.

This bear, the beast, blinds me to my path, no sky blue can I see,
The meat-blood breath it takes in turns and draws my will from me,
I fear to move, so mighty he, my heart it cannot flee,
I forget myself, sweat and cry, and wish the beast to set me free.

This bear, my beast, it caught with me as I scrabbled up Longing Hill.
The brutish rhythm of its breathing drives it’s weight throughout my will,
This bear it snarls holes of fear all through dreams I’ll not fulfill,
Paralyzed the beast presses me to the earth and drives me like a drill,

To blackness I fade too slow, though never a sleep of dreams,
The leaping salmon this bear ignores, like me they fight their way up streams,
Afraid to open my mouth for fear I could never stop the screams,
This bear this beast was given birth through my life of mad extremes.

The black of sleep I would welcome now but dear God it never comes,
A minute here an hour there, the peace of sleep comes to me in crumbs,
Please I beg you, let me sleep and still the army of warring drums,
The bear, dear God, the darkness too, my tallied karmic sums.

I seek release from the dark cocoon the bear around me he did weave,
From this web I would struggle to be free but with nothing can I cleave,
So mighty the links in his chain of web I’ll never have my leave,
For now I must surrender myself, my hopes I must relieve.

The forest of the bear is deep, his dark breath thunders deeper still,
The darkness is his blood, and thicker than the web, it will not spill,
I’ve lost myself to fur, breath, webbing and the darkness of this hill,
For want and need I’d lost my way, ground to powder in my mill.

This bear is mine, my soul released the beast which chased me down,
The dreams I dreamt and the paths pursued lost me to this last ghost town,
And all my needs have grown such teeth and growled all my golds to brown,
I’ve lost my way but cannot pray while this bear he keeps me down.

The Battle

Standard
The Battle

The Battle

The Battle
by Justine Mara Andersen

A thousand slobbering snarling Rakshasa Demons spit rage,
At my hilltop gates, they know the highest weakness of my walls,
They know every secret chambers in the cellar of my heart,
Though time and again I have thrown myself in surrender,
This once I will hold my own with Ma Durga’s fury as my will,
However foul their jibes and cries, we’ll stare them back to hell.

A thousand Rakshasa Demons spit acid at my every stone,
Fueled by the memory of my many sad sinking surrenders,
They have grown large as elephants and mightier than storms,
These demon fires in my skull surge hell throughout my veins,
And though they bash and batter sorrow at my walls without relent,
I grit my teeth and in my fists clench hard-won holy weapons.

They will not advance a single step under Ma Durga’s tiger’s eye,
Whose breath is like a blacksmith’s sparks spraying through my hair,
With rage and fury we set ablaze my oily doubts and tears,
And fly these black fires from our parapet into the clutching horde,
Ten arms of Durga raise their weapons to shield my every failing,
I still myself on trust in her whilst our fiery blaze consumes them.

Emboldened by so many battles won, again the demons charge,
Battering me with obscenities and curses they’ve handcrafted,
From the rhythms of my beating heart and the crimson of my blood,
In peace and with one breath of God I blow out all their flames,
And in the stillness bind them to each nightmare they inspire,
They’ll not have me, this time at last, for I am not of them.

By the still of day I sit beside the fountain, head in hands,
Bowed down under the weight of battle, we bind my every wound.
I catch my breath and hold still the panic, for even now I know,
What horrors are to come this night, I cry to think them mine,
To Temple I go to silence the raging of such deep infected wounds,
And seek the peace of stillness in the heartless hell to come.

They will come and come again, undeterred and in great hordes,
Until I deny them these coals of cowardice crumbling from my soul,
Until I live less my every weakness and live more my every strength,
By day the birds sing golden sunshine swirls above the temple tower,
From below wafts songs of temple spice and the sweetness of prasadam,
Whilst within the Temple of the silent self waits all I have to hold me.

Warring Heart Krishna Sky

Standard
Krishna Sky

Krishna Sky

Warring Heart Krishna Sky
by Justine Mara Andersen

No sleep, no peace, no idea,
A sour stomach a warring heart,
Weak with roiling uncertainty,
I left my little kingdom.

Road below, sky above, so blue,
Blue as Krishna’s hands,
Air warm as Krishna’s cheeks,
I am grateful for the light.

How could anything be so bad,
When Krishna is the sky,
When green clings to winter,
Such color stills my heart.

I know the road, each turn,
Better than I know my heart,
Each beat is lost to me,
Each thought sly as shadows.

Each shadow a demon’s growl,
A thousand thoughts at war,
A thousand rootless heartbeats,
No rhythm to bind them.

Towards the cows I go,
One grey as my emotions,
One black as my fears,
He will not break away.

The black cow stares hard,
Into his eyes, deep and far,
He will not let me go of him,
The cow he waits, on what?

I bow gently to his soul,
Satisfied, he looks away,
To the grass, to his eating,
And is a cow once more, black.

Once more, what am I? Black,
Grey, or blue as Krishna’s sky?
I am barefoot in the grass,
And little else I need to be.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna,
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare,
Hare Rama, Hare Rama,
Rama Rama Hare Hare.

Sold Out Performance!

Standard

Well, what a thrill that was. For the first time in my life I got to perform before a sold out house! The pic. of me on the poster was originally taken especially for a failed romance (I sent it to the presumed long-distance lover… who arrived and went down like a mouthful of sour milk). Needless to say, after investing so much emotional energy in what turned out to be a depressing disaster rather than a sweeping romance, I have not been happy lately, but rather depressed and hurting. Frankly, a bit in despair.

Christmas was a bitch. Humbug indeed.

The good news is I have begun to feel better, and seeing that same picture on the poster for an event that was as grand as this one turned out to be not only revitalized my tired body and mind, but changed the way I view the photo. I no longer see it as a pic. I took for some loser, but as a pic. that was used to promote a sold-out and standout event!

Tonight was it, the Gainesville Story Summit in which the three storytelling communities in Gainesville picked their best 2 storytellers each for a one-night only performance. I was initially honored to be invited to be part of it, and it was indeed an honor. Not merely because I was picked among the dozens of possible storytellers, it was also an honer because the performance was held at Gainesville’s Heartwood Stage, which is a very professional and upscale venue in Gainesville… and the show was being professionally recorded and edited. For the same reasons, for the past few months, whenever I thought about the night I was nervous as hell.

Horribly enough, I wondered if I would be able to go through with it once the time came. To tell the truth, it was not lack of talent or total and absolute public indifference to my music that caused me to set my guitar aside all those years ago, but a ten-year losing battle with that most formidable of dragons… stage fright! Stage fright… the great thief, no amount of practice or talent or preparation can slay that dragon, no numerous shots of whiskey will loosen it’s claws from our skulls. I’ve won many battles against it, but as a musician I lost the war… I wondered if I would win or lose as a storyteller.

As the big night came, I spent the day relaxing, working out my outfit, and trying not to prepare my story. This sounds like madness, but being a veteran speaker and performer, one thing I know for certain is that preparation would have changed the process, but not the performance, so I went in thinking I’d wing it. The part I really needed to work out prior to the show was the beginning of my story, or rather my entrance, but often my entrance is dictated by whimsy and circumstance. I had decided at the last minute to tell a story that was wholly different from the one I had been contemplating for months. I chose to tell the story of my experiences with the Fey in and around the stone circles and megaliths of Ireland. That story dealt with how my faith in God was entirely replaced with experience of the divine and the mystical.

I chose to wear one of my long formal Indian dresses and tights, the long red dress and gold leggings. In the Indian style, I topped it with bangles, ankle bells, a scarf, and my trademark bare feet. It’s been cold here lately, and it was only one degree above freezing by the end of the night. At least it was warm at the venue. As we all hung and paced around backstage I began to dread that I had made a terrible mistake. For a start, news was coming in that the show had been sold out, people were lined up outside, and most of the storytellers were, quite sensibly, studying their notes and rehearsing their well-prepared stories. All I knew, at long last, was how to start the story, beyond that I was placing my faith in Shiva, my center, and faith that I would vibe off the crowd and improvise. Truth be told, I was figuring I didn’t have to rehearse something I lived, something that changed me. Seemingly being the only one so recklessly unprepared, It was starting to seem like a really bad idea.

At one point as I was pacing and breathing deeply in the greenroom I began to panic, but thanks to my dedication to meditation, my understanding of the nature of reality being that which we make it, and my recollection of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, I had a genuine understanding that I had a choice. Like Bilbo walking down the cavernous hall before his first encounter with Smaug, the dragon, I too walked down the hall between the backstage door and greenroom before facing my own dragon. Like Bilbo I realized, as I felt a fever of panic swelling up in me, envisioning myself freezing up and panicking, unable to go out onto the state or speak once I was in the spotlight, that such an outcome was only one option. “Here, Justine, is where you fight your real battle,” I told myself. Like Bilbo, like Arjuna, like Justine, I chose. The choice was between the reality in which I sunk into a nervous and incompetent panic, or the one where I catwalked with ankle bells jingling across the stage barefoot and in control. I chose the story I preferred. I chose to stop the rising panic and face down the dragon with confidence. After all, I am a barefoot wild woman, a panther woman, not a quivering coward.

Ha! There was a reason I was the one on stage and not among the peasants in the audience (she says with a cocky toss of the head).

I was to go on second, the first storyteller, Gail Johnson, told the kind of story that could not have been more suited to a progressive Gainesville audience as her tale took place during the election and inauguration of Barack Obama. What I didn’t know was that her story had a mystical ending. This, of course was a perfect setup for my story. I chose the mysticism of Ireland over the political anxiety of my escape from Chile as an illegal immigrant because that story was my story, as now more than ever, to me… mysticism matters.

From the greenroom I watched her deservedly leave the stage triumphant, and on the monitor watched the MC give me a brilliant introduction. It was surreal. This was like real showbiz, an elegant auditorium, a sold out show, a monitor, a green room, lights… camera… action.

I stood at the door, stage left, and felt a surge of energy as my turn to take the stage occurred. Stepping out onto the stage with a bottle of water and a shot of whiskey, and a surprising amount of confidence, I chose to fulfill the promise of her introduction, of their confidence in having chosen me to perform. The smiles and eager eyes of the audience set me at ease, and to me they looked like a crowd of happy little Ganesha’s full of wide-eyed anticipation and warm blessings.

From my first words, they were with me.

“I didn’t do any preparation for this show… as I realized that preparation would affect the process but not the performance… we’re about to find out if that was a mistake.” I took a shot of whiskey, they laughed… “This is the story of how I lost my faith…”

and I killed ’em!

Yeah, sometimes it feels good, real real good.

But I won’t tell the story here, you had to be there, I’m glad I was, and I’m glad they all were too. But I will tell the moral of the story, and that his how my faith had been replaced with experience of the mystical. Faith can be easily toppled by the words of atheists, but no words from any atheist can put a dent in a standing stone.

They applauded, and I returned to the dwarves in the greenroom victorious and with a small golden treasure stashed away inside the folds of my dress. And Smaug… he was dead!

Shiva, The Eagle and I

Standard

Shiva, The Eagle and I
by Justine Mara Andersen

Sister eagle as you fly,
I hear the wind in your wings,
As though they are mine,
For are they not?

Mother rain as you fall,
I breathe in your rising mist,
And take it all in me,
As I rise and fall.

Hunter hawk of my woods,
I come to join you,
Together we stand,
And you allow it.

And wild turkeys beyond,
Still as the mighty hawk,
Steady is our stance,
We four are one.

White skull of the deer,
Mounted above my window,
Eagle, hawk, turkey and I
Will be bone too.

Lord Shiva in my eyes,
Show me that bones and ash,
Are nothing but rain,
For we are all as you.

Om Shivoham.

Om Shivoham.

Om Shivoham.

Titiksa

Standard

Titiksa
by Justine Mara Andersen

How well do I wish him?
Now I wish him well away,
Yet it’s his mad infection,
in my skin like a splinter.

I want nothing from him,
Not even his sad failing,
Nor any further falling,
Other than from my mind.

I wish him well but only,
If he be gone and done,
Silent to me as old bones,
Done to me as any scar.

How well do I wish him?
I wish him nothing less,
Than I wish for myself,
Peace and all forgetting.

Peace and all forgetting.

Titiksa.

The Monstrous Has Become Mundane (a ramble in the key of A minor)

Standard

“The scouts report that you’ve been seen down the river,
They say you sleep with one eye open, one eye dreaming,
Did they tell you madness passes? Did they tell you?
There’s no such thing as passing madness,
The monstrous has become mundane,
Routine takes the place of pain,
Voici le temps des assassins,
You’re addicted to revolution,
Addiction is no revolution.”

Paul Kelly “The Execution” 1987

And nothing’s changed. Well it has, these lyrics now seem more like personal and political prophecy than a warm voice from the past. What do you do when the monstrous has become mundane?

I do lots of things, for one I go down to the river as often as possible, and always (always) keep one eye dreaming. Mainly I try and make it warmer and wiser within my sphere of influence, but personally, I try to let it go. If this is the reality everyone wants going into 2018, welcome to it. No one consulted me, so I guess it’s time to go deeper within. Yeah.

Om Shivoham.

” I remember I remember,
I go leaps and bounds,
I remember everything.”

Paul Kelly “I Remember”

I first heard Paul Kelly in 1987. Paul Kelly, shoulda been a household name… but in 1987, at 21 I thought I was gonna be a household name.

What a dumb ambition. It was bondage… and not the fun kind.

When I was 21, man, there were so many things pushing and pulling on me. I was dizzy, spinning, and hadn’t yet attained the courage or wisdom to know I could blow it all away in a puff of sweet smoke, let alone go deeper into letting go through meditation. With fire in the belly I wanted this and that, but whatever this or that I wanted, my family wanted anything but that and no part of this. This wasn’t their collective fault, it was just the way of things. I was headed off their path, hell, was already way out and way off their path, but I hadn’t beaten any of my own paths through the underbrush and thorns yet. Lost in the woods, like a fairy tale with stupid-looking cars and MTV. Whatever path I was on, I was the only one who thought I could make it, even lost as I was. I had teachers telling me I didn’t have what it took. Well, neither did they, but what they lacked was something I had in spades…. vision!

For all the people who told me “no,” and for all the confusion, I had a fire in the belly that drove me on. Maybe I wasn’t as lost as many, I don’t know, but knew what I wanted. If I was lost it wasn’t for ambition or dreams that had to be fulfilled, I was lost in knowing how to go about making anything happen. I mean, adults had it all figured out, right? That was what I thought as a kid, if I could just grow up it would all make sense.

It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. Trump, progressives, “reality” television, Facebook, extremism, superhero movies, relentless war, still poor, painfully lonely, barefoot and walking the same tightrope. I was wrong, adults never had it figured out. In some ways I wish I could sit that young skinny Justine down in the grass and tell her that. Might have saved her a lot of suffering. But that’s just it, I’ve realized, she wasn’t after the answers, she was in mid-adventure. Think about it, is “The Hobbit” all about how Bilbo got home and put his ring on the mantle, knowing deep in his heart who he was, or is that story about the fucking journey!

The journey, damn straight! Being changed and bigger is grand, but how you get there is where the stories lie.

I bought a turntable this week. You know, I’ve always been passionate about music, but I prefer Country over Rock, McCartney over Lennon, and Nat King Cole over almost anyone else, but I’ve forgotten how much fun music is. Fucking CD’s and Youtube… oh and Amazon. Yep, there it is, most anything you want. But who cares? This turntable has changed my life. ALBUMS! VINYL! Fucking albums. CD’s are a bummer. I haven’t enjoyed buying music since all the people “in the know” (you know the same guys that think they’re too hip for McCartney), peer pressured me into giving up on albums to buy CD’s. But this whole thing, a return to flipping through records, checking for scratches, finding stuff from the DEEP catalog rather than the surface of the top ten, the size, the heft, the art, is bringing me back to what fun it used to be to shop for music. When you hold an album in your hand, 12 inches of glorious vinyl and cardboard, you know you’re really holding a THING, an object worthy of your time!

Funny story, McCartney knew what was worthy of his time. Back in ’67 at the time “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was about to come out it was decided that the time had come to use cheaper thinner cardboard for the record covers. It wasn’t “spokesman” Lennon or “cool” Harrison that took on that, it was McCartney. He went to the top, arguing with record company executives for the thicker cardboard. McCartney knew, always did, still does, what was worth his time. Holding that album in his and in our hands was worthy of his time.

I’m holding Paul Kelly and the Messengers, “Gossip” in my hands!

As the needle hit the vinyl I laid back on the bed, the album beside me, feet up, feeling herbally “groovy,” and listening to Paul Kelly and the Messengers, it got me to thinking, thinking back, and ultimately churning the sea of milk for the nectar of life. Back in 1987 I was handed that album at Kent State, and I thought, “What the hell is this?” I wasn’t that into the lousy crap that passed for music in the eighties, and the good stuff that was out there I recognized as good, but it just didn’t grab me. God damn that wretched brittle mechanistic eighties drum snap, those grating keyboards, to say nothing of the eighties metal guitar sound. Shit. So here I was handed this album by some eighties guy I’d never heard of because I answered a trivia question at some event I was unintentionally passing through between classes, hell, I was probably skipping classes back then, and definitely barefoot.

Once upon a time I was a lousy student, but I became a brilliant one once I grew up a little. Actually, funnily enough, I did less homework, study and class attending when I consistently made the Dean’s list than I had when I was getting C’s and D’s. See, THAT I’d figured out, go to class and take as much of an active interest in the subject as possible and I’d remember it all since I had been so interested. A genuine interest in a thing will earn better grades than suffering long anxious study sessions. I soared through college… but never could apply that active interest wisdom to Algebra, I guess some things are just to evil to be conquered with wisdom.

I still don’t give a shit what X plus Y equals, and I have NEVER needed to know, either. They tried to con me into thinking that in some abstract way I’d need to know algebra… well I didn’t! What a waste of time and anxiety, all that mathematics.

Take that math!

So there I was earlier today, bringing it all back around. In the bliss of flipping through albums, of all things, there was the album I least expected to see, hell an album I hadn’t even thought of in ages. Yeah, there it was, Paul Kelly and the Messengers, “Gossip.” Funny, though that first copy was free, I had to buy this one. The difference is, now I know what that albums all about. Back in ’87, with low expectations, I put the record on and it fucking blew my mind! Christ… how come no one I knew knew how good this guy, these guys, were!

Today, fucking 30 years later, and the album held more surprises for me… for one, it sounds as fresh and stunning in 2017 as it did in 1987. In fact, it sounds BETTER now than it did then.

And I ask again… how come no one seems to know how good these guys were… or are? I mean, I’ve never really heard anyone talking about him around these parts. But looking him up, it seems he’s quite beloved and famous after all.

Is it just me? I hope so, I’d like to think he’s wildly famous and I somehow missed it.

It’s New Year today, gonna be 2018 when I wake up, how ironic that I would discover Paul Kelly again on the 30th anniversary of the album. Synchronicity is Shiva… there are NO coincidences.

And now, it doesn’t just sound good in this moment… it takes me back and forth through a single 30 year continuity, and I can see it all so much more clearly now. Paul Kelly, the message is, THAT young Justine had a lot of bad karma to create, she had a lot of anger and confusion to work through, and she had a lot of life, adventures, dreams, breakdowns, blood and gore, drawings, friends, drinking, surprises and a life of barefoot ecstasies ahead of her. Though that little Justine eventually conquered most of her fears and accomplished all her dreams, not a damn one of them turned out the way she’d expected.

Not a damn one!

It was perverse how not a bit of anything came out anything like she’d thought it would, but it was always far more crappy and far more sensational than any of her fantasies about how everything would turn out. Did I think one day I’d be performing Carter Music songs before Buddhist monks in the mountains of South Korea, or the same songs in a bar full of johns and prostitutes in the Philippines?–And by the way, is “johns” capitalized in that usage? But I digress. Did I think one day I’d be talked about by Paul McCartney, running barefoot through the swamps, or bowing before Lord Shiv? No, she couldn’t have imagined a bit of it, but she had imagined changing the world with her art. Christ, how absurd!

I may not have changed the world, but I’ve done alright in mine. Paul Kelly’s done alright too.

Here and now “Darling It Hurts” is snarling through the speakers, heavy fucking guitar, raw and perfect. As I sat there with my feet up I felt a sudden end to all the suffering I had been allowing myself to fall into the past few weeks. It just drained down from my toes and out the top of my head to stream across the bed to the floor and out the window into the swamp. It came to me… I was still that young 21 year-old Justine, and if I could just drop the neurotic bullshit, I could be in bliss. A few weeks ago I had realized how since the physiological symptoms of stress and delighted excitement are the same, and it’s me who decides which to feel, that all I had to do was stop choosing compulsively and start choosing consciously how to feel in reaction to such sensations.

Flip the switch. Bliss!

My toes tingled as they bounced to the music, below or above them (as my feet were up, which is which?) and I sunk into that 21 year-old Justine. That which is really me was there then, is here now, and will be here later. That which never changes is all that is. I am that Justine… if I am Justine at all, which I am not, but I am having a “Barefoot Justine” experience. Not bad, someone’s gotta do it.

And you know what, young Justine, it was all worth it, the hard hard work, had knocks, hard times in Korea, the poverty, the mugging, the cancer, nearly drowning SCUBA diving in Thailand, the bankruptcy, the foreclosure, the divorce, the loss of faith and family, the disillusionment, because it all led to Shiva, and because it’s not about sitting at home with my ring on the mantlepiece, it is and was about surviving the revelation that nothing is ever like it seems. But everything is alright just as it is. I was and will always be about realization… even when I didn’t know that. I’ve been working off vasanas, conquering fears, seeing the patterns, and am ever seeking.

And that, is Shiva! That is Brahman, yeah? At the very least, it is Satvic thought, and baby I need it now.

“Baby I look so fine but I feel so low,” sings Paul Kelly as I type. Now, I’m not feeling so low.

But that’s it, I think I know now that if I had the chance to talk to young Justine, I think I’d just smile and give her a thumbs up and a wink. On your way, babe, live it out, that’s your dharma.

Would I trade places with young Justine? No, because I know what she really was looking for. I know through all the shit, the adventures, the boredom, the madness, joys and disappointment, the ecstasy, stoned or sober, she was looking for liberation!

“Listening to these stories of me,” sings Paul Kelly.

Well, Paul, let me tell you some stories of me.

Art Of “What The Lions SAW”

Standard
What The Lions SAW cover by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions SAW cover by Justine Mara Andersen

If you haven’t heard, The Matheson (Gainesville’s History Museum) and SAW (The Sequential Artists Worskhop, Gainesville’s comics art school) have teamed up to produce and create “What the Lions Saw,” a book illustrated by local artist and SAW teacher Justine Mara Andersen, hereby known as “me,” your friendly neighborhood narrator, and written by Mae Clark.

I chose to share the cover first just to set the stage, ’cause I don’t have much to say about the process of drawing it… why? Because I ditched most of my process, sat in front of a blank sheet of paper and a folder full of lion photos, and drew it. Usually I sketch and sketch and work out every detail in advance, and I’ll walk you through some of that shortly, but on this occasion, for some reason I took a deep breath and trusted that it was all going to manifest itself on the paper… and it did. Sometimes I think that like songs that are plucked out of the air by songwriters, drawings often exist in the fibers of the paper before anyone puts pencil to the paper. What is meant to manifest will manifest.

It started, of course, as a pencil drawing that I then inked. It’s important also share that I don’t really think in color when it comes to art, I think in line. To me, this image works in black and white all on its own, so even though when you see the book it will be in color, here is the only place you will be able to see the cover in all its original black and white glory! Sometimes I wish people did not have the idea that black and white equals cheap. How I would have loved to have simply gone with a black and white cover! But alas… what is is what is.

Ah… but there is still plenty of glorious black and white magic between the covers… and that sounds vaguely like a dirty joke between inkers.

What was so exciting about this illustration job was how rich with opportunity Gainesville’s history is. There were no shortage of picturesque possibilities, and while I aimed to get the historical elements visually right through research, I chose a timeless yet hundred year-old illustrative style that I combined with a romantic and universal viewpoint, as sadly, it seems history has become less and less romantic as more of the truth has surfaced. Well, dreadful as the truth of history may sometimes be, I am a firm believer that there is still room for romance, at least stylistically, and in the manner in which I chose to render the scenes. I chose to approach this more as a fairy tale than as cold hard history in that the style is evocative rather than literal, and the approach fanciful and free. I have to admit, I was worried at first about taking on this project, as it was rather huge from an illustration perspective, so I decided to go into the first meeting bold and declare, “Nothing kills creativity faster than a committee, I want creative control. Give me that and you’ll get me at my best,” and was surprised to see that the Matheson gang eagerly nodded. So, thanks to the wisdom of the Matheson crew, I was able to do exactly that, give you all my very best! It’s a rare client that has the insight to trust us creative professionals to do our jobs and actually be creative. So often the life is manipulated out of my work by overzealous micromanagement. It seems a lot of people want to see their ideas on paper without taking the time to learn how to draw.

I’d like to now walk you through a show-and tell of the process for one of the drawings, probably one of my very favorites, the first illustration.

This entire book was based on the illustrations of Russian artist Ivan Bilibin, his work I found very appealing, and I had hoped that by binding myself within the limitation of paying homage to Bilibin, that I would maintain a singularity of style, limit the variables, and keep my work wistful, romantic, and that I would have a template to work from wherein simplicity and details worked in a sweet harmony. In other words, I chose this style to not only limit the variables, but to learn something.

This concept came quite quickly, in fact, a lot of these images I had ideas for from the very first time I read the script, many of them came to me and I had to sketch them in the hour after I first looked the manuscript over. Rarely have I had ideas come so freely.

What The Lions Saw - thumbnail

What The Lions Saw – thumbnail

Looking back at the first sketch (seen above), I am surprised how close this one is to the final version, with some notable differences. For one, I hadn’t seen the actual lions that used to sit atop City Hall, so I just dropped a pair of lions in, and as I loved this concept and design for the scenes of “washing the lions,” I hoped like crazy the actual lions would fit into this composition.

They didn’t… we’ll get to that.

Also, I have to laugh at remembering why the image above is cropped so closely. On the original sheet of paper I drew that on, the sketch only took up about half the page. At some point I had called Tom Hart (SAW founder) to get his credit card number to pay off a bill the school has been taking care of, so, naturally, I wrote it in the margin of this handy piece of scrap paper.

Yeah… but I forgot that and handed the sketch over to Peggy McDonald so she could send out teasers for the upcoming book. It was my understanding that these sketches would be shared… which means… as you have just figured out no doubt, that I had potentially just sent Tom’s (my “boss”) credit card number out on the internet!

Oops!

No… seriously… OOPS!!! Fortunately, we caught the problem and cropped the image before anyone else ever saw it… oye!

Soon after I did a second sketch to try and work out the specifics, having still not seen the lions themselves.

What The Lions Saw - sketch work-up

What The Lions Saw – sketch work-up

The problem was, once I saw the real lion, I realized they were seated. OK, so here’s the rub, I chose throughout the book to play a little loose with such things, with reality, as the lions are drawn out of this position later (as though they come to life), and I had also made the decision to sometimes render them as the copper lions, while sometimes as magical live lions depending on what suited the illustration. The cover, which you have seen, I thought demanded to be rendered more like a literal lion than a copper lion. However, for this image, the specifics of the washing of these lions demanded I draw the lions as they are. Plus, this piece set the tone, and I wanted to introduce our lions as they are. The other problem I had was that the composition I had worked out for this drawing I really liked, but the seated lions no longer fit, so it occurred to me to simply place them on low tables, which gave me an opportunity to draw a Bilibinesque fabric detail to skirt the table. Other changes came later, but above is the second sketch I did before ever seeing the lions.

Note also the red border. Sometimes I draw a scene out, and then work out the precise cropping later. In this case I needed the cropping of the composition to evoke the delightful compositions of Ivan Bilibin.

Below you will see the final sketch, which is pretty close, actually, minus one major element, which you might spot as we roll down. By this point I had worked out the rhythm of Bilibin’s compositional style, a sort of designed and balanced perfection. I chose to enhance that sense of balance by placing the elements in waltz timing… count the arrangement of figures on each lion… 1 – – 2 – 3! I did the same with the buckets as well as other elements of the composition.

What The Lions Saw - final sketch

What The Lions Saw – final sketch

I think you will see in the completed pencils below, that only minimal changes had to be made.

Among the changes were elements of symbolism. Sometimes symbolism occurs to me as a natural part of the creative process, and the symbols I used here also added to not only the waltz timing (see the old man with his back turned), but created a sense of time itself. I teach my students that really great narrative illustration can act like a time machine, capturing not only a present moment in time, but can also evoke the past and the future. In this case the act of washing something is in itself a statement of time. The lions got dirty in the past, are being cleaned in the present, and will be clean for a new purpose in the future. To me, that is the mark really great illustrations hit, they are not mere polaroids snapping a frozen moment, but evoke narratives that span from the past into the present and propel the viewer into the future.

What The Lions Saw - final pencils by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions Saw – final pencils by Justine Mara Andersen

Add to this that we not only see the people cleaning the lions in the here and now, but the old man with his back turned represents the past, Gainesville’s past, and the children (one with a good old-fashioned balloon, the other with a dreaded cell phone) represent the future. As for me… I hope we learn to become less obsessed with our phones and more obsessed with balloons.

One regret I have about the piece is that I did not include an image of the person who actually did the hard work of cleaning and instead slid myself into the image… I’m the skirted barefoot girl right up front!

I also wanted to establish right from the very beginning of this book that my illustrations were not going to be literal. Yes, here I chose to show the “copper” lions as they actually are, though I break that later, what I wanted to establish was an abstracted and stylized background so the viewer would not be shocked when the images broke free from literalism. The older I get the less interest I have in being bound or limited… dear God… set me free!

And of course, as anyone who knows comics knows, the pencils have to be inked. I do all my inking with a brush and ink, I’m old fashioned that way. I’d like to add that the inking is my favorite part of the process, it’s where I’m most confident, and it seems to be where the actual magic happens, for some reason the pencilling is often more like work than magic.

What The Lions Saw - finished inks by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions Saw – finished inks by Justine Mara Andersen

Just to offer you guys all another couple of lovely teasers, below you will see one half of the two-page spread I had illustrated celebrating that “The Yearling” was written in this area (the yearling itself will be in the upcoming book). I’d like to point out that what you see in the below image is essentially the view out my studio window, where I often see wild turkeys and deer… all of whom make far better neighbors than humans. Also note the subtle reference to the Hindu Deity Shiva on the tree… like many illustrators of the past (Alphonse Mucha, even Bilibin), I chose to include some personal mysticism. That tree out my window I often stare into when I am meditating (it has an actual third-eye), so I have been going out and marking it with three horizontal lines in ash. So, there you go, a little personal insight you may have never noticed had I not pointed it out! As an life long illustrator I believe that illustration is the highest form of Art (with a capital “A”) as all our university intellectuals and snobs have it all wrong. Rembrandt was an illustrator, Sargent was an illustrator, the Cistine Chapel ceiling is an illustration. All this bluster about “high Art” and “low art” is, frankly, built on absurd and faulty logic. If you want to dismiss illustration as lowly, then you dismiss Rembrandt, da Vinci and Michelangelo.

What The Lions Saw - turkey pencils by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions Saw – turkey pencils by Justine Mara Andersen

The final image I’d like to share I have little to say about it except that it is an exceptionally cool rendering of smoke and fire! And yes, you’ll learn more about this image when you read the upcoming book!

What The Lions Saw - Gainesville fire inks by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions Saw – Gainesville fire inks by Justine Mara Andersen

So, come on out December 14th and celebrate the launch of the locally written, illustrated and printed book,
“What the Lions Saw.”

I’ll be there… as will be the Lions!

For more, visit: barefootjustine.com
and sequentialartistsworkshop.org