Tag Archives: tree of life

Our Response to Terror – Compassion or Hate?

It’s been a hard week, a hard year, a hard decade as violence and fear get more and more amped up.

Terror in Paris, terror in Beruit, terror in Mali, bombs taking down airplanes, drones targeting terrorists but killing civilians and on and on and on.

me and my sis

My sister and I in front of the Louvre, 2012. Paris- beautiful City of Lights where beauty and love are cherished.

My hope is with the youth.

Today I worked with my 8th grade students on an art project which looks at the importance of trees to our world.  They worked in groups to create a large painting expressing the concept of the Tree of Life, looking at the scientific, cultural and religious significance of trees.  One group of three girls decided to have a large Christmas tree as the central image and use the ornaments to show images about that concept.   I was so proud of them as they developed it, finding symbols for all the world’s religions to go in the ornaments and other symbols of peace and harmony.  They told me that the world needs to learn how to live together as one and to stop hating each other for our differences.

After school I stopped at a local store to pick up some food.  I had wandered over to the wine section where a little tasting was occurring of two French wines.  A man, somewhere in his 60’s was selecting a French wine and commented to me that French wines are the best.

“You can never go wrong with a French wine,” I responded.

“Yes and now they are taking their country back” he said.  He spoke with an accent so he was obviously not a native born American.

I was confused and asked for clarification as I did not realize that the French have lost anything in regards to their wine production.

His response was that France is 45% Muslim (true fact – 5 -10% of French citizens are Muslim) Next he claimed that the French will now get rid of all the Muslims as Islam is a religion of hate and war.

I responded with the thought that terrorists are created by poverty, lack of opportunity and mistreatment.

He spoke more words of hate.

I said I did not agree and walked away.

I was dumbfounded to hear him spouting his hateful and ignorant rhetoric., especially after my 8th grade students had expressed such compassion earlier in the day.

May the children keep their hearts open and lead us older folks to a better world.  We are certainly giving them a very troubled one.


A Give Away – The Tree of Life

tree of life painting by judith shaw

As we near the time of gift giving I thought I would host a give-away.

Sign-up to receive my e-newsletter by October 31 and your name will be entered in a drawing for a free print of this painting “The Tree of Life”.  The print is on matte photo paper 8.5″ x 11″ and is one of my all time favorite paintings.

Just click on the green button on the upper right.  Please know that I will never sell, transfer or trade your information.  Also I send my e-newsletter out once a month or so.  We are all so busy and certainly don’t need daily updates.

I will publish the results of the drawing on November 3.

Thanks and good luck!


Trees – Givers of Life

sonoma trees drawing by judith shawI have been drawn to a visual exploration of trees since my early days as an artist. In recent years the call of the tree has been even louder and more persistent. I believe that on some level I am hearing the pain of our dying forests and their cry for help.  It is my desire that by honoring their strength and their beauty on canvas and paper that in some small way this contributes to a growing awareness of our interdependence with trees.

tree of life painting by judith shawSince the beginning of recorded history our ancestors have understood the importance of trees.  The Tree of Life is a universal symbol found in cultures and explored by artists worldwide. This symbol expresses the understanding that trees connect the spirit world and the physical world as their branches reach up to the heavens while their roots spread out within the Earth.

Solstice Tree by Judith ShawAround the world, different cultures have considered specific trees to be sacred in specific ways.  To the Celts the birch tree, as one of the first trees to grow on bare soil, was seen as a tree of beginnings, renewal and regeneration.

The olive tree whose fruit and oil plays a central role in Greek food and healing was sacred to the Greek goddess, Athena.  The olive branch is a symbol of abundance, glory and peace.

Some trees are sacred to many cultures. For instance the oak tree was sacred to the Greek god, Zeus.  Celtic Druids performed rituals and ceremonies in groves of sacred oak trees.

the mother tree,painting by Judith Shaw

The willow tree is associated with death and rebirth. It was sacred to the Egyptian God, Osiris. It sheltered his body after he was killed.  As a tree of rebirth, it was also sacred to the Celtic White Lady, goddess of death. In Buddhism, a willow branch is one of the chief attributes of Kwan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion. Christian churches in northwestern Europe and the Ukraine often used willow branches in place of palms in the ceremonies on Palm Sunday.

tangle of cottonwoods 72As is happening in so many areas today, modern science is discovering the scientific truth of the ancient wisdoms.  We now know that trees are the lungs of our world.  In an endless, interconnected cycle, human beings breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, which the trees then breathe in and complete the cycle by breathing out oxygen.

The story of trees begins two to three billion years ago as a slimy layer of vegetation began growing on the barren rocks of the earth.  Photosynthesis began and small stalks grew. Slowly over millions and millions of years these stalks became ferns.  About 350 million years ago the Earth was covered with a forest of giant tree ferns.  These giant tree ferns removed carbon from poisonous gases and released oxygen, making the air breathable. With cleaner air, more sunlight reached the Earth causing more life to grow.

A Medieval Forest, painting by Judith ShawThe first trees grew out of these fern forests.  About 290 million years ago the first woody trunks and branches appeared.  These woody trees had strong roots, anchoring the tree in the ground.

Autumn Cottonwood,painting by Judith ShawTrees had and continue to have a key role in creating and maintaining healthy soil. Their roots break up and aerate rock and hard clay and hold down the soil.  Falling leaves enrich the soil with organic matter. Today we have to contend with dangerous chemicals and pollutants that enter the soil. Trees can store harmful pollutants and actually change the pollutant into less harmful forms. Trees filter sewage and farm chemicals, and reduce the effects of animal wastes.

Spirit Tree, painting by Judith ShawTrees create watersheds in a variety of ways. Tree leaves release water vapor, drip water into the ground below and provide shade thus preventing evaporation.  After a large rainfall, the trees’ root system helps prevent flooding and mudslides.

Even more amazing is the connection between trees, bacteria and rainfall.  Bacterial colonies living on tree leaves are carried up to the clouds by high winds.  In the clouds ice crystals form around these bacteria, which get heavier and then fall, seeding the clouds and causing rain to fall on the forest.  This rain, full of rich nutrients, washes off the minerals left on the leaves by evaporation and falls down to the ground, nourishing the little plants under the trees and soaking the soil.  From here the nutrients and water will be pulled through the roots and up to the whole tree in a never-ending cycle of reciprocity.

Olive Grove by the Sea,painting by Judith ShawWith the increasing output of carbon dioxide by our industrialized world, the necessity of healthy forests is imperative. But sadly we have been losing millions and millions of trees over the past few decades. In 2012, almost 100 million acres of tree forests were lost in Siberia.  In the United States, 8 million acres were lost.

the olive tree,painting by Judith ShawIn recent years beetle infestations, caused by warming winter weather have caused mass tree deaths in American forests.   The Mountain Pine Beetle has killed hundreds of millions of trees from New Mexico to the Yukon Territory.  In Colorado alone, an estimated 7.4 million trees died between 1999 and 2009.  Tree deaths have doubled in the last few decades even in what appear to be healthy, well-established coniferous forests, with no evidence of epidemic infestations. Unfortunately, this escalating death rate is not being matched with a corresponding birthrate of new trees.

Dance of the Olive Grove, painting by Judith ShawForests act as huge carbon sinks, capturing and storing carbon dioxide.  According to the research group, The Global Carbon Project, trees, oceans and other plant life, removed approximately 54% of all carbon dioxide created by human activities globally during the period 2000-2007. But this helps stop the bad affects of burning fossil fuels only until the tress die because trees release their stored carbon as they decompose. Some scientists believe that mass tree deaths from global warming could contribute to yet more climate change.  As dying trees release their stored carbon, this contributes to the warming climate, which in turn contributes to more tree deaths. This ongoing worsening cycle could hasten climate change from the predicted timescale accepted by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

heart tree, painting by Judith ShawScience has taught us that without trees and all the ways in which healthy forests contribute to our world, the earth’s atmosphere would be inhospitable to human life.  If human activity has contributed to the plight of our forests, then human ingenuity can find the solutions to the problems we face.  All it takes is the political will coupled with a rebirth of the consciousness of the interconnectedness of all life.  As the ancients knew, the tree gives us life in so many ways. The Tree of Life is a powerful and truthful symbol.

Why I/We Need the Goddess

I have been drawn to the Goddess for a variety of reasons.  Initially, as a young woman, She spoke to me of my own power, self-worth, self-determination and my/every woman’s inherent beauty. She lent Her hand to my emerging sense of independence from male domination.

Aphrodite Dancing painting by Judith ShawOver the years my experience of Goddess deepened.  At times I feel Her as manifest in me and as a symbol of my own power.  At other times She is who I pray to for both personal and community help. And certainly She has come to be my strongest symbol of the beauty and power of the natural world, ruling over life, death and rebirth.  In all these ways I have sought to express Her wisdom through my art.

For many years, as I grew to maturity, my paintings both expressed and integrated Her power manifesting in the world through me, through us all.  This painting, Aphrodite Dancing, celebrates my/our sensual, sexual female nature.  It speaks a loud “YES” to the beauty of our sexuality.  It is a response to the “NO” which has been imposed on our sexuality by patriarchal religions and world views for so many, many centuries.

An expression of Goddess power burst forth with my installation, The Shrine of the Bird Goddess, in the late 80’s.
bird goddess 72This central piece, The Bird Goddess, is a very large painting – 6′ x 10′.  The painting and installation was inspired by the work of Marija Gimbutas, amazing archaeologist who uncovered the ancient artifacts of a harmonious, pre-patriarchal Goddess-worshipping Neolithic Old Europe.

the olive tree,painting by Judith ShawIn more recent years The Goddess has come through me in the form of my many tree paintings.  This painting, The Olive Tree, is seen by many as a dancing woman.  Quite unconsciously I painted in the opening in the tree without realizing that it was vulva shaped. The shape takes you into and through the tree, allowing passage to another realm, in the way that a child is born through woman, coming from the before space into the now space.

the mother tree,painting by Judith ShawOften times She even appears in the tree.  In this painting, The Mother Tree, you can see Her in the trunk.  She also appears in the trunk of The Tree of Life.

sacred geometry tree of life painting by Judith Shaw

I also call on Goddess for help and healing when my sadness and pain over the ongoing destruction of our natural environment gets too hard to bear.  I long to get on a soapbox and yell at the world to wake up!  But not having that kind of platform open to me, I return to my studio and do what I can do, paint – in the hopes that on some level my paintings will touch people and open their hearts to the Goddess, our Earth Mother.

Yemaya Heals by Judith ShawAfter the BP oil spill, I turned to Yemaya, Yoruba Goddess, who is known as the Mother of All Fish. The ocean is Her domain.  She came to the Americas with the African diaspora and continues to be worshipped in many places.  These two paintings, Yemaya Heals and An Offering to Yemaya, are prayers to Her for healing of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  The affects of that massive oil eruption are ongoing and pervasive.  A recent article by David Kirby explains how not only are the waters still damaged by the oil  but the chemicals used in the “clean-up” continue to cause serious problems.

Yemaya, Yoruba Goddess painting by Judith Shawof the Sea

A couple of months ago I was listening to a report on the radio about the persistent crisis of toxic radioactive releases at Japan’s Fukishima power plant which was badly damaged in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Gaia Wields Her Justice painting by Judith Shaw

I felt so angry at the stupidity of the perpetual patriarchal approach to controlling and using nature that this fierce Goddess appeared in a painting.  Gaia Wields Her Justice expresses my belief that She, our earth, is alive, is conscious and is now fighting back.  Her power is so much greater than anything we can fathom.  Though She created us and loves us, ultimately she will not allow us to completely destroy life.   She has put up with centuries of abuse but She is now rising, like a dragon who has awakened from a long sleep.

In this world of interconnectedness She responds to our out of balance actions in a way that will return us to balance.  With ever increasing wild weather incidents – floods, droughts, massive forest fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, bug infestations of our forests and so much more – She creates blocks to our current path of destruction.

Yes, those who embrace control and destruction continue to rule but She is awakening in our many hearts.  More and more voices sing out every day with the words form Libana’s Goddess chant, “There’s a river of birds in migration, a nation of women with wings.”  Women and men together, from the Middle East to the Midwest, are spreading their wings and demanding a return to balance. From the fast food workers’ walk-outs and calls for a living wage to the masses rising up to say no to the Keystone XL Pipeline our wings are spread and our hearts are open wide. The Goddess is reborn. Her justice might at times be difficult for us to endure but it is wielded with love and it is inescapable.

The Mysterious Art of Painting and the Tree of Life

sacred geometry tree of lifeSometimes I  wonder how the paintings I paint finally emerge into the world.  It’s a back and a forth, a finding and a losing; ultimately there’s an image that remains. Later I ask myself  “Where did that come from?”  At times I feel I’m a channel through which these images flow.  I always have to remind myself to sign my paintings, as I’m never sure that they are truly “mine”.

I recently finished a painting which illustrates the mystery in which a painter can find herself.  After the painting, The Olive Tree, sold I went into mini-mourning, feeling it’s absence in my home.  A new tree called to me, the Tree of Life.

I dove into this painting.  Not sure what form it would take, I first envisioned it as full, full, full of foliage. And so it started .  But soon after, I felt the need to lose much of the foliage, anguishing that I was letting go of painting a tree of life.  Then I added the Seed of Life embedded underneath the middle of the tree

More foliage was lost and the stylized leaves made their appearance.  By this time I was in an unstoppable rhythm.  With each new color or form I added to the painting, it spoke to me, telling me what was needed next.  Once again the thought “what would would make this a Tree of Life” surfaced within my rhythm.

The Tree of Life is one of the most ancient symbols of the awareness of the one source, the descent of the divine into the manifest world, and methods by which the divine union may be attained in this life.  It symbolizes unity and love. The structure of the Tree of Life is connected to the sacred teachings of the Jewish Kabbalah but can be seen 3,000 years earlier in Egypt, as well as being found in Christianity, Hermeticism and Paganism.

I decided to do an internet search for a Sacred Geometry symbol for the Tree of Life.

Flower of Life

Seed of Life

Kabbalah Tree of Life

The symbol of the Tree of Life is derived from the Flower of Life. It is composed by highlighting ten  centers of the circles of the Flower of Life and the Seed of Life.  Along with the Seed of Life, it is believed to be part of the geometry that parallels the cycle of the fruit tree. This relationship is implied when these two forms are superimposed onto each other.

A quick sketch of these two forms together and I was back at my easel.  I added the circles that make up the Tree of Life in the correct places on the Seed of Life, whose further expansion implies the Flower of Life.   I stepped back from my canvas in amazement.  The branches of the tree in my painting were crossing intersection points, the circle centers, on the Seed of Life, exactly where the Tree of Life circles were added.

sacred geometry tree of lifeOnce again I asked myself, who is really in charge here.  Without consciously knowing what I was doing I had already positioned this tree correctly to be a true Sacred Geometry Tree of Life.  Very mysterious, wouldn’t you say?

Inspired by Trees in New York City

Upper Eastside window displayI’m in New York City and here I’m truly pounding the pavement on the Creativity Beat.  The beautiful is nestled right next to the ugly, the modern rises up between the old.  From the fashionable townhouses and fantastic mansions of the Upper East Side, to the quaint streets of the West Village, to the funky hipsters in the East Village, to the chefs in the many restaurants, to the artists of Chelsea; New York is alive and  pulsing with creativity.  Art is in the streets, art is in the window displays, art is on the building walls, art is in the beautiful nature growing amid all the cement, and of course art is in the galleries and the museums.

west village treesMy friend of many years and I walk through the streets of the West Village with no real agenda.  We are simply enjoying each others company and the excitement of the city.  The Village is awash with green.  Sunlight sparkles on the trees, casting dappled shadows everywhere. Flowers bloom in window boxes, storefronts and street corners.

west village bookstorewest village marketwest village street with treeswest village cafewest village street

Now on my own and resting my wearing feet, I sit in the window of a pub in the East village watching the streetlife.   Across the street a dark tree trunk curves in front of white stucco walls between dark windows creating a stark contrast of black and white.  I sketch it quickly, perhaps its the seed of a painting to come.  Even in New York trees continue to inspire and delight me.

Lessons in Patience

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.”
Saint Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622)

With each passing year our lives seem to move faster and faster and thoughts on practicing patience have become almost quaint. Having spent the past year teaching art and graphic design to 9th and 10th grade students, the concept of patience has entered my mind frequently. I’ve never considered myself a very patient person. I’m a Gemini and thus by nature move quickly from thing to thing. Ideas fly into and out of my mind quicker than I can ever act on them. And for the ideas I do act on, I always expect them to be brought to completion much more quickly than realistically possible. Though I did raise a son and certainly had lessons in patience with that experience, a full year of teaching teenagers raised the bar on my ability to practice patience.

Both the tree and the spiral seem to emmanate the essence of patience to me.

Both the tree and the spiral seem to emmanate the essence of patience to me.

This quote on patience expresses very well an attitude I tried to impress on my students. “If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention, than to any other talent.” Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727). With almost every project I gave the students, many of them would whip a few lines onto the paper and them proclaim “Miss, I’m finished”. They soon came to hate my response, “That’s a wonderful beginning!” I worked hard to help them be able to see, both the world around us and the potential in their drawings. I offered suggestions helping them to see how with more “patient attention” to their artwork they could turn it into a unique and wonderful piece. For myself, the process of creating art is the one place I have always practiced patience. But my students resisted my attempts to convince them that their works required more “patient attention”. At times I felt despair, wondering why I even attempted in view of their vocal and somewhat teenage style obnoxious resistance to my suggestions.

As the school year drew to a close I was amazed and proud to see the beautiful, well-developed art produced by both the drawing and design students. I learned that my feelings of despair were silly and something I could have avoided had I understood that with patience one can wait for life to unfold at its own pace. Small seeds were planted in my class day by day; seeds of belief in the creativity of each person: seeds of belief in themselves; seeds of the knowledge that each one has their own unique vision. Next year I’ll understand better and have more patience as I wait for the seeds to sprout and blossom in their own ways.

Tribal Self Portrait - Sandra Tucker depicts herself as an Egyptian.

Tribal Self Portrait - Sandra Tucker depicts herself as an Egyptian.

Sandra is an amazing young artist who aspires to be a graphic novelist.   She definitely has her own style going but is open to learning.