Last night I participated in an online program given by the National Gallery of Art called Virtual Studio | Haiku and Haiga: Transforming Poetry into Visual Art. Led by poet/artist/teacher Sean Felix, the program involved looking at a work of art, writing a couple of haiku about it, and then using one of our works to create a guided artwork (haiga being the artwork created from the poetry).
The image we used for our reference was Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds, 1871, by Martin Johnson Heade. I’m going to tell you right now that I found this painting vaguely disturbing, almost creepy. I felt I was looking at an alien world that was not too friendly. Also, I don’t much like orchids anyway – there is just something about them that I find kind of threatening. And hummingbirds? I’ve never felt the same about them since I learned about their true personalities.
We discussed the haiku form and then spend some time viewing the artwork, in the first quick session focusing on what we saw, and in another look, what other senses were evoked by the image. After each examination we wrote a haiku.
Then, taking one of our haiku, we focused intently on our words, and then, eyes closed, drew a continuous line around our paper to depict the elements or sensations of our words. Once done, we opened our eyes and added color.
Here is the haiku I wrote that I used for the haiga exercise. We had about 5 minutes to come up with something. My mind was full of feelings and speculations about the painting and I had a hard time focusing and paring down in that short of a time, so I think my work was pretty vanilla:
crushed leaves underfoot
release their scents to the air
I taste the warm mist
But so what? It worked fine for the next part of the exercise. Here is the artwork I made to accompany it:
I had a black-gessoed page already set up in a sketchbook, so I used that as my surface, and my drawing materials were colored pencils. As I drew the continuous line, using a white pencil, I consciously tried to include the visual elements I mentioned in the haiku. Each one is in here more than once (take my word for it). Once done, I went over the line in pink and then colored everything in.
Now that I understand the process, I would certainly do it again. I think almost any scene could work as the inspiration to start things off – it doesn’t have to be an artwork – but I liked the aspect of paying very close attention to the art a lot. I was forced to go much deeper than the usual passing glance an artwork might get as I flip pages in a book or walk along in a museum.
And, it’s a very contemplative process. You have to slow down and go deep into your mind to be able to come up with words and art. It felt good to do it.
I’m still thinking about the picture today. Here are two more poems inspired by this session. I think you will clearly see my feelings as I look upon this scene. (I guess the word “stink” kind of cues you in. Oh dear.)
the stink of wet heat.
the pink orchid in the gloom.
the warm mist veiling
the frilled gleam held in the grasp
of bulbous alien leaves
leaves trod underfoot
release their stink to the air
with each step I take
I encourage you to take a look at the National Gallery of Art’s site. There are so many resources there and like this workshop, they are free. This museum is another one of the institutions that I discovered during the pandemic when I was looking for online resources, classes, lectures, and activities. I thank them for their generosity to me, the average citizen. And I thank our instructor, Sean Felix, and my classmates for a great experience.
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