Portal at Burn In The Forest

A little late with my final post, but well worth it, what with awesome pics from Frank!

I would like to express some major gratitude to Merry, Angie, and Terri for their assistance with the fiddly painting of the tile pattern…without their help, I would have been spent my entire weekend painting, and missed the event!

Props are also in order to Frank, Ken for wrangling the lights, to Kay for the magic battery that got it lit up when our power plan failed, and to Ashes for letting us steal some juice from the Empress.

And many thanks to all the folks who came by to visit, and cross the threshold!




Portal Build Day 4

With all the marking done, I was able to start the “paint by numbers” stage yesterday.

I had intended to pull an all-nighter & finish it, but I was exhausted after fire practice and crashed out pretty hard.

Here are a a pic from yesterday’s work.  I have a detail of the tile painting, but my uploader is being a jerk.  You’ll see more later in the Day 5 post, forthcoming.

portal 6

Portal Build Day 3

Did I mention that this thing is double-sided?

Right.  So that means my fancy pants tile pattern appears on 4 panels.  The very old-school stencil transfer method took about 90 minutes per panel, adding up to about 6 hours to complete the pattern outline.  Of course, it’s excruciating to sit on the floor for that long, so I had to break up the time.  That’s pretty much all I did today.  It’ll be worth it though, once the colour gets added.  I think it’s going to be spectacular.  Crazy, but spectacular.

I also spent about an hour or so, marking the stripes around the curve.  I probably should have marked it while it was still possible to lay it flat, to make my life easier.  However, I found myself with a problem to solve: how to mark the radial lines while having a gaping hole at the centre of the circle?

Sure, I could have projected an image, but I’m old school, as can be seen by my pin-hole chalk transfer method.  So I got some string, ran it from the horizontal lip on either side of the door, and attached a vertical string from the centre top.  I tied another, long string to the vertical piece, and positioned it so that it was approximately the centre of the circle.  With a ruler, I marked approximately 6″ intervals along the outside of the white edge I’d painted around the opening, and asked Frank for a hand.  I had him hold the knot as steady as he could, while I worked my way around the circle, running the string from the knot, to my pencil marks, until I had done both sides.

Not exact, but it worked well enough, and now all the pencil marking for the Portal is complete.

Next step: Painting!


Portal Build Day 2

Frank was a rockstar today, and started building the supports that will keep this baby upright.  We also grabbed all our old leftover housepaint from storage, and established that a lot of the painting of the Portal can be covered by that supply.

I decided at about 10pm last night that I’d hop myself up on coffee and do as much work on the Portal as possible.  Of course, my plan was rather ambitious, and I’m nowhere near done.  There’s still hours and hours to go, for just laying out the pattern, nevermind doing the painting.  Still pretty certain I can do it, but I would welcome volunteers!

Here’s some progress shots, and the method for applying the pattern.

I printed out the pattern and used a pin to punch tiny holes all along the black lines.  Not enough to punch any of the pieces out, but enough to function as a dust stencil.

Then I pinned the paper pattern onto the surface, and used a piece of conté crayon (I couldn’t find my charcoal) to scribble over the paper and cause conté dust to transfer through the holes.

Removing the paper revealed a delicate dust outline of the pattern on the surface, which I went over with a pencil.  The conté can smear and rub off easily, so the pencil is more reliable, but still editable.

When the entire pattern is marked out, painting (by numbers!) can begin.  After the colours are applied, the pattern outline will be blacked in with a thick sharpie marker.

And, here’s a colour code for painting by numbers.
colour code

If you’re feeling inspired and would like to help out, here are the next steps:
-make a couple more stencils with the pin poke method (they wear out)
-continue transferring & outlining the pattern onto the surface
-add the colour, according to the colour code

Portal of Rebirth – Design

When I presented this project at Recharge (a Burn in the Forest fundraiser), I stated that the design was flexible, as it was the concept that was important, not the aesthetic.

At the fundraiser, I left a sketchbook and pencils by my station, and folks drew all sorts of inspiring ideas in it, for what the portal might look like.

One of my favourites was that the threshold could be at the top of a slide!  So awesome.  I investigated that option but deemed it out of budget and scope for this project, but could be fun to build another time.  Another friend’s suggestion inspired me to spend a bit of time trying to figure out how to build the portal as a giant wishbone, but again, it was a bit out of my capacity.

Ultimately, I decided to build it as something that is close to my heart.  As I have a personal interest in Middle Eastern art and culture, I chose a keyhole design, with painted patterns inspired by traditional tilework, as often seen in near and middle eastern architecture.

As with most of my projects, I was not very pro-active about gathering a build crew, so this is largely my own project.  That said, my dear husband Frank makes an excellent partner in crime, and has been very involved in helping me sort out the logistics, chauffeuring me to & from Home Depot, and cheering me on.

See our first day’s progress here!


The Portal of Rebirth – Build Day #1

We had a fabulously successful build yesterday!

With the first batch of materials purchased, we were ready to measure, mark and cut. Frank’s dad, and little brother came over, and after a slight delay due replacing an expired scroll saw, we got all the panels and frame pieces cut.  While I was out at a performance last night, Frank graciously assembled all the pieces, and I came home to a fully assembled arch.

Next steps: 1) Paint the basecoat, and stencil on the outline for a “paint by numbers” paint treatment.  2) Cut and prepare the base stabilization, to be assembled on-site.

Read about the design here!

assembled 1 framing 1 panel 1

These are reference images I’ve been using for inspiration:



And the stencil pattern to paint by numbers, inspired by Islamic tile work.




The Portal of Rebirth

Welcome!  I would like to create this project as an interactive art and heart installation
at Burn In The Forest 2013.


Title: The Portal of Rebirth

Budget: estimated ~$200.  I would like the final design to be a collaborative decision with the future build crew.  Presumably made of wood, and held together with screws, and maybe a coat of tempera paint, material costs would be quite low, depending on final aesthetic.  (Could be done for $50 if it’s just a doorway, but with more, we could make a Moon Gate.)

LNT Plan: If the structure ends up being wooden, with enviro-friendly paint, it could be be dismantled & burnt.  If not burned on site, I will personally remove it, and burn it in my woodstove.

Set Up & Breakdown Plans: Depends on final design (to be determined by build team, as yet to be formed), but ultimately, I could build and break it myself.

Project Timeline: I would like to see a team form by May 1st, and have it built and ready to transport by a week before BitF.

Demonstration: I have few needs for the fundraiser: maybe just a small table where I could set up a laptop and an easel.

Minimum Funding: I have a trailer, so transportation is cheap, no matter what.  For just $50, I could make a simple doorway with no bells & whistles.

Maximum Funding: with $200 and a few handy people, we could make an ornate doorway or arch, and provide sage or incense to smudge the participants.

“The doorway effect suggests that there’s more to the remembering than just what you paid attention to, when it happened, and how hard you tried.  Instead, some forms of memory seem to be optimized to keep information ready-to-hand until its shelf life expires, and then purge that information in favor of new stuff.  Radvansky and colleagues call this sort of memory representation an “event model,” and propose that walking through a doorway is a good time to purge your event models because whatever happened in the old room is likely to become less relevant now that you have changed venues.”


“This place is so huge”, she says. “There are so many doors.”
“Do not worry.  You shall find it.  There is a sign above the door.”
“What says the sign?”

“The word was a transitive verb, an exclamation, a command, of which an exact English translation is impossible. The closest equivalent probably would be the phrase: Lighten up!”

~from “Jitterbug Perfume”, by Tom Robbins

Gratitude Flowers


I am an active member of the Greater Vancouver Interactive Arts Society, and I participate by making art, leading theme camps, performing, or offering workshops.

In 2011, I attended one of our community events, but due to an injury, I was unable to participate in the ways I was accustomed to.

It can be difficult for me, to accept that I should sit down, and let others do for me.  But instead of sitting that event out, or complaining about what I couldn’t do, I brought some supplies.

Tissue paper, pipe cleaners, and scissors.  I spent much of my time, sitting at a picnic table, making tissue paper flowers, just like the ones my grandmother and I used to make when I was a child.  A few friends joined me, and we made many flowers… nearly 100.

During the event, I wandered about, seeking out the many volunteers who had taken leadership roles, and worked very hard, both before and during, to make this beautiful event possible

When I would find them, I would offer them a flower.  Our eyes would meet, and I  would offer a most heartfelt “Thank you” for their creativity, their dedication, their talents, their hearts.  As it is so good to be acknowledged, and expressing genuine gratitude is a wonderful feeling, the gifting was often powerful for both myself and my flower recipient.

I wish I could have made a few hundred more, one for everyone who attended and brought their energy and joy, because I was grateful for them too.  I encourage you to express your gratitude freely, and often, as it is excellent medicine.


The Shrine Of Compassion

For Otherworld 2011 my husband and I built a small shrine in the spirit of The Temple.
A tiny spirit house for visitors to leave notes, to be consumed by fire.

It began as a more ambitious project, but sometimes things need to be distilled to their core before their true purpose is revealed.

To process the grief of miscarriage, Frank and I discussed what we would do to honour our mizukos (unborn), and to give ourselves closure for this experience. As Burners, we felt that The Temple was an appropriate place to bring our grief, and the ashes of our departed, but that would be a long time coming, and we didn’t want to artificially delay our process.

Hearkening back to the more ambitious project we’d once had in mind, we decided to build a sacred space closer to home. We chose to build the Shrine for Otherworld, the Victoria summer regional Burning Man event, as it is very close to our hearts. Had we been able to, we would have liked to build a proper temple, but that was not possible for us, both in scope and in safety if we intended to burn it. So, perhaps not a temple…. perhaps just an altar, or a shrine.

We set out to design something that would serve the purpose we needed, and still be appropriate to it’s location. Logistically, something small that could be easily moved and safely burned was ideal, but we also wanted to ensure that it still accomplished that feeling of grounding and resonance that we felt was integral to something that was to serve as sacred space. We also wanted to create something that would be accessible to everyone, so we did not want it to be specifically dedicated to Jizo, or require any prior knowledge to understand it’s purpose. The common thread in all of our brainstorming, was compassion. And so began the creation of The Shrine of Compassion.

I felt so inspired by my investigation into Japanese customs, that I wanted to reflect that in what we would build. I imagined perhaps a tiny temple, and so I began to research Japanese temples, looking for a shape that I might take inspiration from. Although Buddhism is much younger than Shintoism, and are separate belief systems, there is often an aesthetic blend that occurs, finding both Buddhist and Shinto elements in the temples and shrines of each. So I decided to allow both of these to inspire my design process.

I soon learned that in Shinto custom, a miniature shrine, called a hokora, frequently found in places of great natural beauty, to house the kami (spirit) of that place. Also of interest, is that the earliest true shrines were temporary, just as our beloved desert temple. With a bit more research I learned that some kami, called “dosojin”, are much like Jizo, in that they are protectors of travelers and those in transition, and are often enshrined in little hokoras on roadsides.

So I designed a small spirit house. Something I find important about the Temple is the ability to write things down, and leave them in the sacred space, to be released in fire at the end of the event. To mirror this, I created openings in the roof of the house to allow visitors to slip notes inside. Another important thing about the Temple, is that entering it marks the transition from the mundane into sacred space. To mirror this, we designed an approximation of a Shinto torii (archway), to create a threshold that one may cross to enter the sacred space.

That sacred space, is where one can be still, explore the deep waters, connect with oneself, and with others in their raw feelings. To be grounded, to meditate, to release, to grieve. To consider compassion. With the support of our dear friends, we placed the Shrine & it’s torii by the river, provided pencils and paper for those who wished to leave something in the hokora, and together, with our beloved community, we burned it at the end of the event, on Sunday afternoon.

I poured my love into the creation of this shrine. I thought of you, while I was building it. I wanted to give you a place where you could come, and lay your burden down, and know that I love you, and I believe in you, and I forgive you. I invite you to take a moment now to consider your heart, and breathe.


Mizuko is a Japanese word that means “water children”, a term for the unborn, the miscarried, and the aborted.

Jizo is a bodhisattva dedicated to assisting all beings in their passage out of hell, and is the guardian of mizukos.

Jizo:Acrylic on canvas

Jizo, C.Roberts 2011, Acrylic on canvas

As many of you know, 2011 was a very challenging year for Frank and I. Even before our pregnancy loss, I had been thinking very deeply about personal meaning, emotional connection, and authentic expression, and these thoughts paved the way through my healing, and brought me to this project.

During my recovery, I learned of a Japanese bodhisattva named Jizo. For those unfamiliar: in Buddhism, a bodhisattva is an enlightened being who remains in this realm in order to help others attain enlightenment. Jizo’s promise was to assist passage of all beings out of hell, and is the guardian of unborn, miscarried, and still born children, as well as women, firefighters and travelers.

The Japanese have a word for these children: Mizuko. To explain mizuko, I offer a quote from Peggy Orenstein: “I had never previously considered that there is no word in English for a miscarried or aborted fetus. In Japanese it is mizuko, which is typically translated as ”water child.” Historically, Japanese Buddhists believed that existence flowed into a being slowly, like liquid. Children solidified only gradually over time and weren’t considered to be fully in our world until they reached the age of 7. Similarly, leaving this world — returning to the primordial waters — was seen as a process that began at 60 with the celebration of a symbolic second birth.”

It is believed that children cannot make their own way through hell, and so Jizo helps them, cares for them, and protects them from oni (evil spirits) by hiding them in his long sleeves, and guides them to salvation.

When I read this, I closed my eyes, and imaged the spirits of my departed, tucked smiling into the sleeves of the compassionate Jizo Bodhisattva. No matter that I am not Buddhist, nor Japanese, this was a beautiful and healing image for me. I made a painting of this.

I read a lot more about Jizo, and about mizuko kuyo, a ceremony performed to remember and apologize to the unborn that has gained popularity since the 1970’s. There is an interesting history to the practice (and exploitation) of mizuko kuyo, but it is much an aside, so I will allow you to do your own investigating should you find it calling you. One element of the practice that I will share though, is to place in temples, beside roads and running water: statues of Jizo, depicted as a smiling child-like being with palms together in prayer. Families who have experienced babyloss will place offerings, often little red bibs and hoods, and decorate the statues. There are many images of rows upon rows of stone Jizos, each with little red accessories.

Although interesting, the mizuko kuyo did not resonate with me as something I felt was appropriate or necessary for my own healing. But what did stick with me, was the image of this bodhisattva, this being of compassion, who tries to assist everyone in their journey through the dark places. My mizukos traveled through a dark place the day they left me. I traveled through a dark place as I accepted that they were gone.

The hardest part was not that I didn’t get to be a mother. I don’t look at my loss and think, “poor me”. When I feel it hardest, is when I think of those little babies: one carried in a container to the hospital, the other motionless on a screen, and I wonder who they would have been. Two little people who never had a chance. I carried them, and I lost them, and I couldn’t stop it from happening. They weren’t just potentials, they were people.

I felt compassion for them. I felt the compassion that others were pouring out to me in my grief.

Something I see often, is people appealing to a bodhisattva much like they would appeal to a deity – asking for help, for guidance, for salvation. But buddhas and bodhisattvas are not gods. They are merely a reflection of what is possible within ourselves. So when I look at an image of Jizo, I see the potential for compassion that is in myself. I hold my mizukos up to the light of my compassion, and it shines within me, and warms my life.

With Jizo as a focus in healing, I felt my own capacity for compassion grow, and felt moved to express that. To offer my heart, ease the suffering of others, to ignite compassion in their hearts, and pour that healing out to those who needed it as much as I did.