The Mandala Chronicles

November 20, 2017

Back in 2010, there was a display of photographs in the café of our local Briar Patch co-op, that had been created by the Mandala Nomadess, a woman who wandered to beautiful locations, mountains, rivers, beaches, and created nature mandalas from what she found in the immediate environment.  She used leaves, branches, twigs, stones, flowers and  pinecones, to create intricate designs with an affinity for each particular ecosphere she was visiting.  Something awakened in me by seeing this gorgeous work, and I bought a print and framed it for my living room.  I subsequently moved twice, and this mandala came with me as a reminder of a kind of ephemeral art that appealed deeply to my spirit.  This is how the nature mandala first came into my awareness, and in the next few years, when teaching art workshops, we would often close our circle with a mandala of flowers and candles surrounded by our paintings and collages.

In 2014 I turned 50 and set out on 50 Field Trips (with flowers and friends) to celebrate.  In May, on a trip to Mendocino I sat alone on a log and made my first nature mandala on a driftwood log on Glass Beach.  On the 50th trip – I went on a walk by the Yuba at Edward’s Crossing with Jennifer, it was late autumn, just before Thanksgiving, and as we walked she suggested we make a mandala, and we instinctively  collected things as we walked, filling our pockets with golden leaves and acorns and sat on a rock together in the mist by the water.  It was both the culmination and celebration of my 50 trips project and also had the real portent of being the beginning of something new, and the beginning of our mandala collaborations.

For the next few years Jennifer and I would meet on special occasions and make mandalas with flowers gathered from our gardens, before our friends’ fire circle,  or as part of our art events.  That year I was leading art field trips to visit artist studios and at that time contacted the Mandala Nomadess to try to arrange a mandala walk with her for our group, but she had moved away, off trekking in exotic lands.

Last September (2016), I invited friends to the river for the autumn equinox.  It was just three of us who were able to be there, Sunny and Jenn and I spent a glorious day at my favorite rock at the river to honor the change of season.  We collected twigs and quartz and swam in the golden light.  That mandala marked the beginning of a year long cycle because due to the escalating discord in American politics during election season, and the unrest we were all feeling on the planet, I felt it was time to step it up a notch and bring the women together more often just to stay balanced. Earlier that summer, my son had given me a copy of Malidoma Some’s book, Ritual: Power, Healing & Community, on the need for ritual in the western world, and although our circles were very different from what he describes in his book, it was a nod to his work and leaning in that direction in the form that came naturally to me.

So I began to gather  small groups of women together, to share each other’s company and to create offerings of beauty, a gentle form of ritual.  We began to meet, every new and full moon, twice a month for the whole year. This book is a chronicle of those gatherings, a harvest of our time together, and a collection of writings from any of us who wanted to contribute, weaving a tapestry of our collective experience.   The nature of these mandalas, unlike my inspiration the Mandala Nomadess who works in solitude, is collaborative.  It is extraordinary in our product driven, competitive art world to relax into an art form that is temporal, collaborative and accessible. We all know how to do this, it is in our hands, in our DNA.  It’s in our feminine consciousness. We are built to create offerings of beauty.  It is easy for us to stand in quiet reverence of the natural world, to give thanks for the gifts surrounding us, to be immersed in a sisterhood of sharing our lives, celebrating the rhythms of the seasons, and supporting each other through both joyful and difficult times.

On the new moon, which is a quiet, internal time, we explored writing our new moon intentions, and experimented with a new moon group tarot spread.  The full moon is a more energetic,  expansive time, more for celebration and fun. And always good food.  Some gatherings were inside, some were out at various locations, the pond, the river, leaving our offering to be enjoyed by anyone who might happen upon it, especially the deer.

Each season brings its own gifts, its own flavors and rhythms.  We also began to attune to the Cross Quarter celebrations—Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine and Lammas.  Paying attention to the cycles of the moon, of initiation and action, celebration and letting go, slowing down and deep rest, has been a very nourishing process, and an exploration that has only just  begun.  As we tune into the rhythms of the moon we become more balanced, more grounded, more able to live with an ongoing sense of wonder and gratitude.

We close each circle by saying one word each, passing around a beautiful polished rose quartz that fits just right into the palm, understanding that when we pass a rose quartz to another person, love radiates throughout the universe.  May these flower offerings continue to ripple with joy through our collective consciousness, in reverence for all life.
(Introduction to Offerings of Beauty: A Year of Moon Mandalas)

The Making of Blue Adventures

November 21, 2016

blueadventurescoverIn December of 1989, my mom, Jean Burns, began an incredible journey. She
set off to walk all the west coast beaches, one at a time, savoring them, first
walking from her Southern California home to Mexico, and then turning around
and heading for Canada. I was 25, just before I became pregnant with our first
child, (and my mom’s first grandchild). I was vaguely aware of her project at
the time, amidst our busy swirl of new parenting, but as she made her way up
the California coast we’d hear more stories during her visits and looked
forward to her 65th birthday party crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, (which
didn’t end up happening as planned), and then heading northward.

Years went by and many grandchildren later for her (and a second child for me) I
was finally able to join her when I was forty, for one of her walking trips up the
Oregon Coast.  It was October and misty, and we drove her blue-green honda
up 101, taking every left turn in search of coastal access.  I’d drop her off at a
stretch of beach and meet her a few miles up the road on the other end.  We got rained out one day and waited out the storm at a beach side motel with a fireplace and the waves crashing outside.  I share my mother’s love for the
ocean in all its forms and also for firesides.  So it was kind of heavenly.  That day we sat by the fire and took a first look at the manuscript she had been compiling.  She had been writing about every beach since the beginning,
sometimes 4 or 5 pages, so by this time she already had quite a tome, and it was daunting.  At that time, we were both still too busy to work much on it and the idea of a finished book was a distant one that we weren’t sure would ever come to be.  We looked at the beginning chapters and made a few edits and left it at that.  The next day was glorious, golden sun and low tide and out we went again, perfect walking conditions.   160708h

Five years later, when she finished at Cape Flattery, I was more than impressed.  She had given up the idea of a
book long ago, preferring instead to keep adventuring.  I could understand that, but something in both of us kept the idea alive until finally, six years after she completed her journey, and after I had finished making a book of my own,
we could now both see that it just might be possible to pull it off, and if we were going to do  it, we’d better do it now! So she spent months editing down her journal entries, re-typing, scanning and sorting, with maps and timelines.
She had taken some photos along the way, but many of those were now lost and whole stretches of the early beaches were missing.  So this year we set off on two photo collecting expeditions, this time in my blue Subaru, first down
and then up Highway 1, revisiting the beaches, this time from the road, snapping ocean views to fill in the missing photographs.   These were wonderful times, in May driving down the California coast from San Francisco, then in July heading north all the way to Coos Bay.  We covered every inch of Highway 1, which is now our favorite highway.  And just as mom’s original trip had a life of its own, the book project did too, and was quite an adventure in itself, and a fantastic collaboration.

When people ask her about her great accomplishment, she brushes it off as “just a hobby.” But I am here to say
that what she has accomplished has great value to all of us, in that her deep appreciation for the coast, and her adoration of the natural world, is a high act, and her sustained vision is an epic work of art, a magnum opus.  Her
adventurous, independent spirit and original odyssey she created for herself is deeply inspiring. Good work mom!  You’re a badass beach walker.  May this book inspire, uplift and encourage the adventurer in us all.

Painting Music

September 26, 2016


Ave Maria (Schubert) by Lil McGill

In February I began a new Painting Music series, creating paintings in response to specific pieces of music, composers, performers and songs.  This is an endlessly rich and satisfying pursuit as music has always been a big part of my in-studio experience, but now with even more focus on the mood and meaning of a song, its history, the energy behind the voice and instruments, lyrics, the depth of feeling in the subtle tones and inherent genius of the artists’ creations.  It is a joy to work in this way and begin collecting my playlist of paintings, a visual map of the journey of my artistic year.  Some of the paintings I like, some I don’t.   I am always surprised by them, but still the process itself is what matters to me most, the engagement with the music, the colors of the sounds, the deep listening.  And the endless fertile ground of music to paint to, new music to discover and the vast appreciation for what gifts these musicians bring to our world, what magic.


With This Love (Peter Gabriel) by Lil McGill

I started off with the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ, by Peter Gabriel, which has always moved me – especially the tract “With This Love” – and that’s what I often find, in a whole CD, there will be one track that touches me the way the others don’t and this is what I am looking for – these particular songs that have a special meaning to me, that resonate with my inner journey at this particular time in my life.  Also old favorites that never fail to seek my attention.  While I was painting “With This Love”, I kept seeing this blue stripe down the middle of the canvas, which I didn’t really want there, and so I tried to move it, change it, but the paint kept finding the same way and finally I gave up and left it alone.  Later after the painting had dried and I was looking at it I saw that that blue stripe down the center actually formed a cross, an angel on a crucifix, which is obviously the theme of the movie for which the soundtrack was created.  That the music itself held the energy of that archetypal symbol, and the watery paint carried that energy into this symbolic form:  This kind of magic is difficult for me to ignore and fueled an ongoing exploration of and experiments with the energy of music.  Story after story with each painting, too many to tell, some deeply personal to my own experience.  All magical indicators that I am somehow connecting with the spirit world and that there is an infinite amount to learn about the nature of consciousness.  And so I carried on with all sorts of music.  Classical, rock and roll, gypsy jazz.  Anything that moved me.  A song I heard on the new age station at the doctor’s office, recommendations from friends, music I had never listened to before, a series of greats, Jimi, Joni, Janis, Dylan, Earth Wind & Fire.  You see how endless the joy?  I have painted other works to music over the years – John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and Mingus’ “Prayer for Passive Resistance” and a whole show for Music in the Mountains SummerFest with works by Beethoven, Dvorak and Pink Floyd.


Secret Chord (Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen) by Lil McGill

I can feel myself leaning into a whole new series now but I suspect I will always return to painting music, integrating my emotional resonance with the music that connects my inner world with a unified field of consciousness and my profound delight with the flow of color, light and sound. You can see these paintings and visit me in my studio at the Open Studio Tour (first weekend only) October 8 & 9.  Prints and paintings will be for sale there and on my website here.


June 13, 2015


We have had a wonderful series of field trips in April and May  (see photos below) and now we have just two more events to finish out the season.  We will be celebrating the beginning of summer at our Summer Solstice Paint Sisters Playshop on June 20 (all day– painting and tempered glass mosaic!) and then finishing out our field trip schedule with our last trip up to Katie Carter’s summer garden June 28th — this will be a nourishing & replenishing exploration of how best to support the second chakra of creativity,  especially in women, with healthy food and creative expression.  Join us for this field trip finale.  I say finale because I won’t be scheduling any more official trips for awhile because i will be moving my home and studio sometime this summer/fall. I will be focusing on envisioning the next fabulous live/work space and making the upcoming transition as seamless as possible so that we can carry on with our creative work.  I may be having an official moving sale of my paintings later in the summer like I did last time we moved four years ago (yes it has been four years!) but in the meantime if there is one you’ve had your eye on for awhile let me know — now’s a good time!  You can see the available paintings Here. Also, my new book, 50 Field Trips with Flowers & Friends, is available both on my website and directly through Amazon. Please see details below.

In the midst of change it is especially important to stay grounded in your creative practice and to continually return to a quiet place in order to stay connected to your own inner guidance. In his book, Fearless Creating, Eric Maisel shares an exercise called Hushing — a meditation practice to quiet the mind so that you can listen to what you want to create while the noise of the world and thoughts and chatter fall away.   I have found it to be both soothing and effective.  We will be working with this exercise at our upcoming Summer Solstice Playshop…join us and we will Hush together.

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I finished my book, 50 Field Trips with Flowers and Friends, and will be having a book release gathering on Friday April 24th at the Vanishing Point Salon, the home of my friends Matthias Schossig and Walburga Ziegenhagen.  They live where the Hospitality House used to be located, and are now beginning a new tradition there of hosting art and philosophical events there in an intimate setting.  Readings, music, discussions in the style of a 19th century salon of the arts.  I will be reading selections from the book and will have books for sale.

I have a sense of accomplishment for completing this book, mostly because now I have ideas for 10 more and a eager to move on to the next project. The next book I am working on is my mom’s account of her walking of the west coast beaches from Mexico to Canada over the course of 20 years.  She wrote about every beach, every walk, and we are collecting it all together with her photos to honor that amazing adventure.

Meanwhile I have been painting, and leading art field trips.  We have a beautiful line-up for April and May.  Intuitive Painting at Ananda, a Visit to Molly Fisk’s Poem Farm, and a Morning of Color & Light with LeeAnn Brook at her studio up on Cement Hill Road. And a Mother’s Day Spark!   If you would like to be on my Field Trip Email list, let me know  (  And you can see the full schedule of trips, events and classes here.

There seem to be so many things going on, so much to do, way more than is possible in a day. And it is easy for our creative work to get put at the end of our to-do lists.  I have been working with this in the past month by practicing each of my art forms 15-minutes a day.  15 minutes of painting, writing, piano, reading, walking etc. interpersed with my other work and family responsibilities.  I have felt a strength building within this structure, even though it seems like such a short amount of time to accomplish anything, I am finding that the daily attention keeps the thread of my efforts going, which is leading to an interesting and powerful momentum,  It also forces me to use my time more wisely, and 15 minutes is something I can accomplish, and of course once I’m in the studio, or at the piano, or reading poetry, I often am able to put in more time, and want to.  It has been an interesting experiment.  Baby steps help get you going.  Break it down into pieces.  Little by little.  How did my mom accomplish walking all those beaches?  One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.  And onward we go.

Another Great Day

February 22, 2015

It has been a year since I have written on this art blog.  It has been a year of inner growth for me as an artist, experimenting with new ways of painting, breaking through patterns of working in an ongoing process of artistic exploration.  New Territory.  And in the midst of this painting transformation I turned 50 last February and embarked on a project to undertake 50 field trips (with flowers and friends) last year to celebrate, (being newly obsessed with flower photography). I accomplished this by November and have spent the last few months collecting these small adventures into a book of words and photos.  My goal was to send for a proof copy by my birthday one year later (which was this past Friday), which I also accomplished, sending the files in on Thursday night and ordering a proof copy on Friday morning before work, just in the nick of time.  Deadlines are great!  So I will have the proof soon and will be finishing up the book in the near future. I designed the book myself, with help from friends and that has been a whole learning curve in itself. But I love this process!  Harvesting the work of a year, gathering it together in one place, celebrating this amazing life.
Growing out of this newfound love for small adventures, I have started a series of field trips to artist studios in the area, learning about the artists and working on small art projects together.  In the fall we had fun with mixed media at Menlo Macfarlane’s studio, and encaustic with Deborah Bridges, a Poem Walk with Maxima Kahn, and holiday ceramics at the Mud Hut with Denise Wey.  In January we visited Ruth Chase’s beautiful studio on Banner Mountain, where she led us through Visioning our Creative Year, with a collage vision board project.  Coming soon is a PhotoWalk Adventure with Ed Hensley, Spring Equinox Ceramics, and Intuitive Painting up at the gardens of Ananda.  If you would like to be on my Field Trip Email list, let me know  (  And you can see the full schedule of trips, events and classes here.
A few weeks ago I was in the checkout line at the grocery store and asked the checker how he was doing and he said, “It’s another great day.”  That has stayed with me and I’d like to keep it as a kind of mantra for the coming year.  And celebrate every day, especially in the face of sudden changes and uncertainties.   And keep a good strong focus on creative work, painting, writing, and road tripping whenever possible.  I invite you to come along!

Radiant Orchid

February 3, 2014


 Just a quick note to announce that Radiant Orchid is the Pantone official color of the year. I love this color!! So energizing and uplifting. 
I look forward to exploring this color in a new series of paintings as the year unfolds. 

“Radiant Orchid blooms with confidence and magical warmth that intrigues the eye and sparks the imagination. It is an expressive, creative and embracing purple—one that draws you in with its beguiling charm. A captivating harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones, Radiant Orchid emanates great joy, love and health.” ~Pantone