Chris Muhl Art © 2018

I’ve started the shading process on the face and trunk. Shading is where the fun begins, and I’m very excited to begin this process.

This project has really been a trial of patience. I had no idea when I started, how much time this would take. Along the way, I’ve listened to dozens of books that have carried my mind to every corner of the globe and throughout the span of human history. I’ve listened to thousands of songs of every genre. I’ve felt loneliness and isolation, and I have felt love and comfort. At times, my hand has even etched the emotions of my heart into the drawing.

IMG_3247

And so for me, this artwork has become a journey of learning, an expression of love, and a test of my will. While there’s much work to be done, the fun is really just beginning. I look forward to sharing this adventure with you!

ChrisMuhlArt_1_2048pxw

I hope everyone is happy and healthy, and enjoying lives filled with love, laughter, and smiles. And whatever your life’s pursuits may be, I wish you the best in achieving all that you can be.

I’ll leave you with a short fable that I picked out of Thoreau’s, Walden.

“There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a staff. Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, It shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life. He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood, being resolved that it should not be made of unsuitable material; and as he searched for and rejected stick after stick, his friends gradually deserted him, for they grew old in their works and died, but he grew not older by a moment. His singleness of purpose and resolution, and his elevated piety, endowed him, without his knowledge, with perennial youth. As he made no compromise with Time, Time kept out of his way, and only sighed at a distance because he could not overcome him. Before he had found a stick in all respects suitable, the city of Kouroo was a hoary ruin, and he sat on one of its mounds to peel the stick. Before he had given it the proper shape the dynasty of the Candahars was at an end, and with the point of the stick he wrote the name of the last of that race in the sand, and then resumed his work. By the time he had smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa was no longer the pole-star; and ere he had put on the ferule and the head adorned with precious stones, Brahma had awoke and slumbered many times. But why do I stay to mention these things? When the finishing stroke was put to his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes of the astonished artist into the fairest of all the creations of Brahma. He had made a new system in making a staff, a world with full and fair proportions; in which, though the old cities and dynasties had passed away, fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places. And now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his feet, that, for him and his work, the former lapse of time had been an illusion, and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a single scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the tinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art was pure; how could the result be other than wonderful?”

 

 

Lost in stormy seas

In its 2014 Synthesis Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) stated that “…stabilizing temperature increase to below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels will require an urgent and fundamental departure from business as usual.”

The late and renowned Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess said that, “The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.” Naess went on to say that “Policies must therefore be changed. The changes in policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.”

Overpopulation is the most pressing environmental issue we face today. In 2017, Earth Overshoot Day (EOD) occurred on August 2nd. EOD is the day of the year when human consumption exceeds the annual biological capacity of the Earth. Since the 1970s, EOD has progressed to earlier dates within the year. The most significant environmental problems of our time stem from overpopulation and overconsumption of natural resources.

How do we move away from business (and life) as usual, while maintaining our perceived quality of life? Clearly, this requires an ideological shift.

Naess proclaimed, “The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.”

I happened upon “great” one day while riding a bike. To elaborate, I want to share a story from my own life.

I grew up in Los Angeles, but was fortunate to have parents that took me often to places wild and beautiful. We hiked and biked on the weekends, and enjoyed summers in Yosemite, and camping in the Sierra Nevadas.

The wild has always been a place I love, yet despite this attachment, there was a time in my life when I lost my inner connection to nature. I don’t know how to describe the feeling. What I remember is, not deriving lasting pleasure from a walk among the woods, or a view atop a mountain. What it is in me that sees the beauty in nature and creates a sense of wonder or attachment, was gone.

I went several years like this.

Discover her, love her

In 2013, I moved to Arcata, California, where I lived for three years while attending college. This small town of 18,000, lies four and half hours north of San Francisco. Arcata is bordered by forests of towering coastal redwoods to the north and east, Humboldt Bay to the south, and the exquisite Northern California coastline to the west. If you’re looking for an adventure into the heart of nature, look no further.

The tranquility and isolation that can be enjoyed around Arcata is a far cry from the traffic, congestion, and chaos of Los Angeles. And this was exactly what I needed to rediscover one of the most priceless, yet costless joys on earth, a journey into the wild.

While in Arcata, I spent every weekend along the coast, or in the woods, or atop a mountain. For the first year and half I felt the same feeling I had in Los Angeles. Nature was there, and I loved her, but still something was missing. Then one afternoon, while riding my bike to school, I looked up to the sky; it was a window of blue, in a frame of emerald green needles. Rays of amber light flickered through the trees, and somewhere in that view I rediscovered the wonder and everlasting pleasure that nature can provide. It is one thing to look at a flower and find it beautiful, it is quite another to hold that flower and feel something deeper than what the eyes behold, a feeling of awe, of warmth, of comfort, of love.

Contrary to what I would have believed, it was not a separation from nature that made me love and long for her. Rather, it was the daily interaction with nature that enabled me to discover and appreciate all the little nuances of her. She was always beautiful, but I suppose my attraction had become superficial, and as a consequence I had lost the ability to truly appreciate her. In living daily with her, listening to the wind in the trees, the ripples in the streams, the thunder upon the ocean, I heard her thoughts, and longed to hear more. In walking through the woods, I saw her creations in all their magnificence and all their delightful quirks. I climbed her rocks and swam in her rivers and lagoons. I tasted her fruit and smelled the sweetness of her breath.

Rejuvenating a deep connection for nature was not something that came without effort, but I wanted it, I immersed myself in the pursuit of it, and in the end, I found it.

I think of the day on the bike often, as it is the moment in my life when I discovered the “difference between big and great.”

Somewhere in the glitz and glamour of urban life I lost the ability to truly enjoy the simplest of pleasures. Perhaps an excess of entertainment opportunities combined with a tendency to crave new and more exciting experiences had made me numb to nature’s offerings.

I think it is import to understand that the material world is the realm of our imaginations. It is the world that we created from our dreams and ideas. While it is sensational in many ways, it is also artificial, and we as natural beings originating from a natural world may unknowingly lose our way within it. Our concepts of pleasure and excitement may be corrupted by an excess of lustrous, artificial entertainment.

Through love of nature we can attain sustainability

Discovering “great” had profound implications on my own life because it enabled me to see how little I need to be happy. So many of the innovations of the modern world are simply luxuries, but we grow to perceive them as necessities because we equate owning them with attaining a high quality of life.

Despite what people, or advertisers, or society may say, we really do not need much to be happy. And this is good to remember, as consuming less will steer us in the direction of sustainable living.

Big lives are filled with material stuff that come and go with no true consequence. Great lives are filled with experiences that create the memories we will cherish until the end our days.

Perhaps George Strait said it best, “I ain’t never seen a hearse, with a luggage rack.”

I share this story as a lesson from my own life about the influence of society and the complexity of pleasure. I was completely unaware of the negative influence of urban life on my own well-being, until I dared to live a while among the woods.

The trunk is finally done!! Or rather, the outline is. I still have a little shading to do.

My goal with this project is not to create a photo-realistic result. Rather, I want to capture what it is in elephants that makes them so grand. It’s more than just their size; they look wise, they look ancient, they appear almost omniscient. And perhaps they are, and we’ll never know. But how do you capture this in a work of art? I am sure 100 artists would create 100 unique ways to do so.

If I were to paint the galaxy, conveying its enormity, would I need to paint every star, or is there a threshold beyond which the eye of an observer can no longer perceive a difference? And is there a threshold at which point the imagination can easily expand from, filling in the gaps? In drawing this elephant, I have played with these questions, and they have defined my style.

The trunk of this work contains ~15,000 (this is a rough guess) tiny shapes. The entire artwork may contain over 100,000. While I have not captured every tiny detail, I hope that I have captured enough to trick the mind into seeing more than is actually there, and to stimulate the imagination to implant an aura into this inanimate form.

What is the purpose of this art?

Elephants are sentient and intellectual beings. They posses an extraordinary degree of emotion and affection. It is sickening to think of how these creatures are treated. Poaching is a grotesque act of pure evil. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that humans and elephants share similar capacities for empathy and love. And so it is, that when a heard of elephants is gunned down by poachers bearing fully automatic weapons, we can only assume that they feel the same pains (physical and emotional) that we would feel in that situation.

The battle against poaching has become a violent engagement. Both poachers and rangers are losing their lives. This could all be avoided if consumers would just stop buying ivory. A product with no demand has no market value.

This artwork is meant to generate further awareness for the plight of the African elephant, but I mean to do so by depicting what we stand to lose. The artwork is very much scientific, produced in a style akin to scientific drawing. Producing the artwork in this style conveys the elephant as the result millions of years of evolution; sculpted by the forces of nature over a great expanse of time. Or, for the religiously inclined, the product of divine creation. But regardless of their origin, their future lies in our hands. In the blink of an eye they could all be gone.

So, when completed, this elephant will stand as an artistic and scientific depiction of what is, or possibly in the years to come, of what once was.

Around the world, there are many extraordinary creatures on the verge of extinction. Whether or not they will be here in the future is left for us to decide. Most importantly, we as consumers of the Earth’s resources have control over what we will and will not buy. This world will always be filled with greedy people willing to make a dime at any cost, but consumers have the power to control what these costs will be.

The learn about the current wave of extinction events, please see The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert.

 

Wrinkle by Wrinkle

For anyone following my blog, I’m sure you’re wondering, when will DFA #1 (a.k.a. the elephant drawing) be done. I hear this a lot from friends. The answer is, it’s still several months away from completion.

Why is it taking so long?

Well… I’m not a full-time artist. I’m currently working on wildfires, and my pencil only hits the paper between field assignments. Come the end of the fire season, I’ll be on DFA #1 non-stop until completion.

For those of you who have followed me this far, thank you!!! I have some big plans for the completed drawing and prints. I look forward to sharing the experience on my blog.

Cheers!

I am currently back at work on the elephant drawing, a.k.a. Drawings for Africa #1. This is by far the most taxing project that I have ever undertaken. I’m working from photographs and trying to sketch out every detail that I can see. Each little feature of the skin becomes a polygon, or a line, or a dot on this enormous sheet of paper. I estimate that I have now sketched out somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 tiny polygons.

When zoomed in, the patterns appear as a scene of chaos, like a madman’s abstract depiction of the galaxies of the universe crammed onto a Petri dish.

IMG_1362

As I listen to audiobooks while drawing, the shapes seem to transform with each story. A few weeks ago, I listened to Hemingway’s “The Green Hills of Africa,” and the shapes began to appear as animals, and lakes, and rivers. I then listened to “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,” and the shapes started to resemble the broken hunks of ice on the vast, antarctic, ice sheet upon which Shackleton and his men were stranded for 15 months. Now, while listening to Dickens’ “David Copperfield,” the shapes have become an odd illustration of the tumultuous personalities and harmonious interactions of Dickens’ enchanting characters.

Standing back from the drawing, it is hard to believe that this jumble of shapes becomes the figure of an elephant.

DSC02989_a

I suppose many parts of life require a glance from a distance to be fully appreciated, as the totality of their magnificence lies in the synthesis of their elements.

Lie upon your belly on the valley floor of Yosemite, and you’ll see a jumble of pebbles, and twigs, and leaves, and sand. Rise up to your feet, and look out towards the peaks, and the eyes take in a seen that could tickle one’s fancy for eternity.

And in love, isn’t it true that we, from time to time, find ourselves so caught up in the deluge of life’s events that we must step back to see how wonderful our relationships truly are?

I wonder how magnificent the universe would appear if we could stand atop a prominence and view upon its entirety. Perhaps we’ll never know the beauty of this scene, but maybe, just maybe, it bares resemblance to the assemblage of shapes on the surface of an elephants skin.

Well, that sums up my ramble. I hope everyone is well!

Drawings for Africa: October Update

Hi everyone! Here’s an update for the Drawings for Africa project.

Due to work, and other smaller tasks related to the project, the progress has been a little slower than expected, but I’m excited to say, it’s coming along well, and the process is speeding up!

Here’s a short clip from this morning. Sorry about the video shake. The camera is attached to the easel, and when the video speed is increased considerable, the shake becomes pretty bad. I’ll fix this issue in future video updates.

I hope everyone is well, and thanks for tuning in!

Hi everyone! I have had a few comments on the large easel that I created for the Drawings for Africa project. So, I thought I would provide an update highlighting some of the features. If you would like to see how the easel was built, please see my earlier post, Building a Big Easel!

As the first elephant drawing evolves, I have been adding new features to ease the drawing process and to enable better documenting of the journey.

I’ve added lights, a magnifying glass, and an adjustable camera mounting system.

If you are interested, check out the video! Perhaps it will provide you with ideas for your own projects.

If you have thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to comment.

New capital of the U.S. ivory trade: Washington, D.C.?

Washington, D.C. appears to be the new hub of the country’s ivory trade, according to a report released Wednesday.

For those of you following my blog, I want to share with you this post from Conservation International (CI). To go directly to the article, please click here, or see the link at the bottom of this post.

If you have heard about poaching in the news recently, you have most likely noticed that most articles point to Asia as the primary source of demand for ivory. China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are often noted as key markets.1 However, many people are not aware that the U.S. is also a key player, with the second largest market after china.2

U.S. ivory imports were outlawed in 1990, when a ban established by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1989 went into effect. However, the CITES ban did little to reduce illicit ivory imports, and distinguishing between sanctioned and illicit ivory is nearly impossible.3 Consequently, the ivory market in the United States has flourished. In recent years, some states, notably California, Hawaii, Oregon, Nevada, New jersey, New York, and Washington have introduced laws banning ivory sales. In response, ivory sellers have moved their inventories to states with no trade regulations, including Washington, D.C, Virginia, and Maryland.4

In an effort to save elephants and reduce illicit ivory imports, the Obama Administration introduced a new, “near-total” ban on domestic ivory sales on July 6th, 2016.5 This ban is intended to prevent the masquerading of illicit ivory as sanctioned ivory. Time will tell whether these new measures will prove effective in reducing illegal ivory imports.

You can help save elephants by spreading the word about ivory and poaching, signing petitions, and writing letters to lawmakers in support of ivory bans. And most importantly, never buy ivory! To keep up on the status of African elephants, check out the IUCN Red list. Click here to support the IUCN’s 2020 species assessment goal.

via New capital of the U.S. ivory trade: Washington, D.C.? — Human Nature – Conservation International Blog

1 Strauss, Mark. “Who Buys Ivory? You’d Be Surprised.” National Geographic, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/08/150812-elephant-ivory-demand-wildlife-trafficking-china-world/. Accessed 25 August 2017.

2 Smith, Jada F. “U.S. Bans Commercial Trade of African Elephant Ivory.” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/03/world/africa/elephant-ivory-ban.html?mcubz=0. Accessed 25 August 2017.

3 Arnold, Chris. “New U.S. Ban On Ivory Sales To Protect Elephants.” National Public Radio, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/06/02/480494835/new-u-s-ban-on-ivory-sales-to-protect-elephants. Accessed 25 August 2017.

4 Bale, Rachael. “Why D.C. Is the New Hub for U.S. Ivory Sales.” National Geographic, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/wildlife-watch-washington-elephant-ivory-for-sale-united-states/. Accessed 25 August 2017.

5 “Ivory Ban Q&As.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/international/travel-and-trade/ivory-ban-questions-and-answers.html. Accessed 25 August 2017.

What the heck am I going to draw on?! This easel needs to be BIG!! After a quick bout of research on Google Images, I opted to build a large version of the classic table easel.

Using wood and metal fasteners, I built a sturdy, albeit cumbersome, easel.

For the drawing surface, I acquired a large Plexiglass Acrylic Sheet. This makes for a perfectly smooth surface. Although, I’ve discovered that, on hot days, the Acrylic expands, resulting in a slightly undulating surface. This is remedied with the addition of more screws around the perimeter of the Acrylic sheet. Alternatively, drilling holes ~2-3 times larger than the diameter of the screw, and using large washers, would keep the sheet fastened to the frame, while allowing it to expand without bowing.

Given the severity of plastic related pollution in our oceans and waterways,
I was hesitant to buy a large piece of Plexiglass. In my own life, I try to minimize plastic usage, opting for reusable and easily recycled options such as stainless steel, glass, fabric, and just about any alternative I can think of. However, Plexiglass has its advantages in this situation, and I will be using this easel for many years. Should any damage occur to the surface, I will reuse the Plexiglass in other applications around my home. If I ever need to dispose of it, I will seek out a facility capable of recycling it properly.

I chose a 50″ x 10 yd roll of Stonehenge 90 lb, acid-free, fine art paper. To get the paper on the easel, the roll is placed on a roll holder at the top, pulled down over the easel surface, and taped in place.

Watch the video to see how it came together. If you have questions or suggestions, please feel free to comment.

I’ve never liked applying titles to myself, such as chef, carpenter, runner, sailor, or musician. I guess this is because I’m not very good at any of these things, thus, I don’t feel worthy of the title. If you have ever heard my rendition of Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” on a guitar, you would understand what I mean. My version sounds more like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in the key of T, short for terrible.

But, if I had to apply a title to myself, I suppose artist would do, as it seems to be how everyone refers to me. I’ve always loved the process of creation. To be lost in an endless expanse of creative thoughts for hours, or even days, and weeks, and months, is like a journey into the vast, unknown depths of yourself. Over the years, I’ve explored photography, painting, drawing, sculpture, jewelry design, carpentry, writing, and so on. And so it is, that art, in one form or another, has accompanied me at most times in my journey through life.

On one occasion, while at a high school award ceremony honoring the achievements of senior students, I was awoken (apparently, I had dozed off) by the sound of applause and the frantic shaking of my friend, who tried to arouse me to tell me that I had won the Bank of America Art Achievement Award. Having been jolted out of a deep slumber, I clambered up to the stage still trying to figure out where I was, and for what purpose I had been summoned.

In my life, I have worn many hats, but I’ve always come back to art in one form or another.

Today, I apply my artwork to various causes in an effort to raise awareness for pressing environmental problems. I’ve created this website to tell the story of my artistic endeavors, and it is my hope that it will inspire others to charge forward in the direction of their passions.

At the heart of all my efforts, is a desire to do some good in this world; to give back something, as a sign of appreciation for all I have taken in meeting the needs of life.

My current project is titled, Drawings for Africa. It’s a mixed media project, incorporating drawing, graphic design, and other art forms, to call attention to the increasing severity of elephant poaching in Africa.

As the project unfolds, I will be detailing its development with updates, videos and pictures, and other highlights along the way. If you would like to watch the project unfold, please follow and/or share my blog.

I welcome your thoughts, comments, and suggestions. Together, we can make a difference in this world.

In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”