On my trip to Oz last year, I collected an antique Aboriginal carved baobab nut. It doesn’t display well just lying there, so I’ve wanted to find or make a small stand to hold it upright. Yesterday I finally got the mojo working enough to give it a burl. I decided it would be kinda cool to try my hand at using natural ochre rock pigments (that I’ve been collecting on my hikes around Las Cruces) and painting a la Aboriginal or cave painting style. Weellll easier thunk than done, but I somehow created something functional out of the process, and learned a lot (mostly awe and respect) about just how good the Aboriginal artists were/are working on bark with limited bush materials.
I created a template from foam board to get a set of interlocking shapes that would hold up the baobab nut, then tore apart a cedar cigar box that I brought back from recent trip to Europe (for this very purpose). Using an exacto knife I cut out the wood in the shapes (no simple task, and some gluing was necessary) and smoothed them up to provide my surfaces. Next I ground up my rocks into different colored powders. Quite time consuming, but it was fun to use my Native American metate grinding stones (I love functional antiques). Research on the net didn’t help particularly with specifics on a suitable binding material, so for the base coat I mixed red pigment with gesso to create the surface for the painting. Pinker than I’d like, but since it was all eventually covered with other pigment it didn’t matter.
It took some pondering on what to paint. I didn’t want to do a faux Aboriginal piece, so settled on a scene from my memories of time spent in my VW Kombi at Ayers Rock (now UIuru) in 1975. I’d done an earlier painting in abstracted style that incorporated some Aboriginal rrark hatched lines, so decided to wing it with something like that as well for the sky. I painted a sketch of the scene in watercolors as my reference.
Using small brushes (I didn’t go the purist route with crushed twig-end brushes, thankfully–hard enough with store-bought ones!) I mixed mat acrylic gel, a little water, and my powdered pigments to make paint and did my miniature paintings on each side of the pieces of wood. Not easy with detail work, as the pigment was rather grainy even after grinding away in the metate for a while.
In the end, I got something that more or less worked for me. I even added footprints from the dog that accompanied our van, and a billy can for boiling tea. I gave up with the brush and signed with a Sharpie to avoid just a big blob where my initials and date should be. Here’s how final product looked. It stands at 5″ wide x 3″ high (13 x 8 cm)