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The Zen of Turning Wood

Hand turned Big Leaf Maple burl bowl.

Over the past year I have been exploring many new avenues for artistic expression. One of them has been turning wood on a lathe.

I have always been drawn to wood and woodworking but never gave it a go until this year. After receiving my first mini lathe for my birthday, I jumped right in and fell immediately in love with turning.

Turning a Spalted Maple bowl.

It is an incredibly meditative craft. I find my mind focused completely on the piece of wood as it turns. The beauty and unique qualities of each piece are revealed with every new cut my tool makes.

Adding the finish to the Big Leaf Maple bowl while chucked on the lathe.

Turning wood has become the perfect peaceful endeavor for me during these tumultuous and crazy times in our world. When I can’t get out in nature, it allows me to hold a piece of it in my hands, work to enhance its beauty, and clears my mind of the endless stream of unimportant chatter.Each one of my pieces are created with reclaimed wood from fallen trees. You can view more of my work here.

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Night Wanderings

  Tower Bridge, Sacramento, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.
It has been awhile since my last post due to an incredibly busy life. I have a lot of catching up to do since I have been doing a lot of shooting and little posting :). So until I have more time to sit down and write some thorough posts, here are a few recent night shots I took with my iPhone for you to peruse. I also wanted to take a moment to wish you all a very Happy Holidays!

 A quiet walkway in Old Sacramento along the Sacramento River. ©Tracy J Thomas. All rights reserved.

  The approach to the Tower Bridge along Capitol Avenue, Sacramento, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.
  The “Money Building” and CalSters reflecting in the Sacramento River, Sacramento, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.
  Downtown Sacramento and lighted Palm Trees. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.


The Lure of Minimizing and Living Off-Grid

  ** Pole Barn. North Idaho. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

I have always felt I would make the perfect Hermit. I love spending time alone and one of my favorite places to spend that time is lost somewhere in the forest. The noise and activity of the city excites me for short spells but grates on my nerves and makes me long for a quiet space after a day or so. 

As a child I grew up in a small community surrounded by beautiful and dramatic mountain ranges. The outdoor life was all I knew. I spent my summers hiking, climbing and backpacking through forests on the Western slope of the Sierra Nevada and my winters snowshoeing, ice skating and skiing in the backcountry. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t dream of someday living in a log cabin surrounded by pines and wildlife. My interaction with nature was the best part of my childhood and became my savior during moments of stress.

  
Oft-times childhood dreams are cast aside for adult realities. I grew up, went away to college, and landed out in the “big world” far away from my small town hamlet. Over time I took on my big city persona and began to lose touch with nature. While swept up in that grown up life of making lots of money in order to buy lots of unnecessary “things,” I was haunted by an empty feeling deep inside my gut. Everything I was doing, every hat I wore, every role I played, felt wrong. All I could think about was sitting on the porch of that log cabin somewhere in the woods where I could breathe the earth back into my soul. 

  
I am not the only one who has felt this way. More people have begun to heed the lure of homesteading or living off-grid and have made the bold decision to quit their corporate jobs, sell most of their belongings, and move their families onto their little patch of paradise far from the noise of the city life. I can’t think of a healthier way to exist than that of the Homesteader. To reconnect with nature, grow your own organic food, and live off the land is to me the ultimate existance. And this is exactly what we are going to do in the not too distant future. 

  
The wheels were set in motion when we recently purchased a small log cabin on ten beautiful timbered acres in North Idaho. Over the next several years we will work to downsize or minimize our belongings; in other words let go of the “things” that don’t bring us joy in life. We will spend most of our upcoming vacation time enjoying and preparing the cabin for our eventual move. The cabin is not completely off-grid in the sense it is connected to the power grid, however it sits two miles from the nearest paved road, draws water from a well with a spring as a secondary source, and can only be accessed by skis, snowshoes, or a snowmobile in the thick of Winter and a 4-wheel-drive Quad or knee-high mud boots during the sloppy Spring thaw.

  
What was once a dream has now become a tangible reality and it brings such peace and joy to my heart to know it is there waiting for our ultimate arrival. We leave a week from today to pay our little piece of paradise a sixteen day visit. I can’t wait to sit on the porch swing and breathe in the beauty of the woods while dreaming of the day I will never have to leave there.

  


Favorite Mobile Photo Apps – Juxtaposer

  
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One of my favorite mobile photography editing apps is Juxtaposer. This app is the mobile photomontage artist’s dream app. It was Juxtaposer that first opened the doors of my creative imagination when I transitioned to shooting and editing with an iPhone. For years I had used Photoshop for traditional DSLR photography editing and had played with a few montage creations. However, I found the use of PS for this type of editing to be time consuming, tedious, and it had a steep and somewhat complicated learning curve for the tasks involved.

I first noticed a number of mobile artists creating amazing photomontage work on the iPhoneArt.com website back in 2011. I was blown away by what these artists were creating on their iPhones and ultimately iPads. I followed several conversations and soon learned about the Juxtaposer app. From the first day I downloaded the app I was hooked. At the time the app was iPhone only and the iPhone screens were not nearly as large as they are today. So imagine me bent over my miniscule iPhone screen erasing details of photographs in order to save one small piece as a stamp to combine with another background photo. Talk about tedious! But the fact I could use my fingers to pinch and zoom and an inexpensive stylus to touch up the details made the experience fun and a lot cheaper than Photoshop and a Wacomm tablet. Plus I could say that I created these pieces from start to finish on my iPhone!

 **A few of the pieces I have created with the Juxtaposer app and favorite texture apps.**

As time went, on my iPhone photomomtage pieces all created with Juxtaposer and a few texture apps, began to place in competitions and find their way into galleries, private collections, and publications around the globe. After taking a break from several productive years creating mobile art, I have recently migrated back to using Juxtaposer on my iPad to create illustrations for a new book I am in the process of writing. The fact I can edit with this app on my iPad has improved the user experience ten-fold. Below are some of the steps I took in the app when creating a piece for the book. **Note: this piece is far from finished but I thought it would be fun to share a work in progress while highlighting this app.**

First I chose the base elements that would go into my photomontage based on a concept I had in mind.  

 

**This is the background photo I chose. I shot this several years back in Baja, Mexico.**

 **I decided I wanted this baby carriage as part of the scene. I shot this photo in a vintage auto parts store many years back.**

I opened Juxtaposer, started a new session, and I chose my bottom and top images and imported.  

  

I needed to erase everything on the top layer but the baby carriage. To do this I chose the eraser button and began to pinch and zoom the top image in order to get in close to the edges for detail.

  

When I was happy with the results, I saved the top image as a stamp so I could use it again in the future. I also decided to flip the carriage so it angled towards the cactus for better composition (another tool I love in this app).

   
   

After saving my newly created base scene, I added my main character, The Borg, from my saved stamps.

   
  

 

I then began to add more stamps to the scene, in this case the hat and pacifier.

   
      

Now that I have incorporated all my main core elements I will continue to touch the scene up by adding shadows to anchor the carriage a bit better to the ground so it doesn’t appear to be floating plus a few more items to finish the scene to my liking. This will be followed by importing the piece into a few of my favorite mobile photo texture apps.

A few of the other tools in Juxtaposer are the ability to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, opacity, blend modes, and brush settings. my favorite feature of all is the unerase button which comes in handy when attempting to erase close to the edges. Unlike a reset button, it allows you to unerase small parts of your top layer and does not reverse all the work you just painstakingly labored over.

  
All in all Juxtaposer is a fun app with an intuitive interface for both the beginner and advanced mobile artist.

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Zen in the Garden by Tracy J.  Thomas

Zen in the Garden

by Tracy J. Thomas

Giveaway ends May 24, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to Win


Book Giveaway – Enter to Win!

  Just a quick note to tell you about the Goodreads book giveaway for “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature.” Enter to win one of four softcover versions of the book HERE. The giveaway runs through May 24th.

 
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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Corned Beef, Leprechauns, and a Wee Little Bit of Irish Brogue



** Window display at Evangeline’s, Old Sacramento, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

Every St. Patrick’s Day I think about my favorite grandmother. She was as Irish as they come. She did have some noble French blood traceable back to the time the French Hugenots were driven from France mixed in with a bit of this and that, but she had more fun embracing and identifying with her Irish side.

There was no one in this world who could tell a story the way my grandmother could. On St. patrick’s day she would don her apron and spend all day in the kitchen cooking corned beef and cabbage. Later in the evening with her grandchildren gathered about her feet, she would sit in her rocker and in her best Irish brogue, spin tales of Leprechauns, pots of gold, and St. Paddy himself. We were mesmerized as we hung on every word that poured forth from her mouth in the language of our ancestors.

Her own mother, who I unfortunately never met, came to the U.S. from Ireland as a wee little lassie. My grandmother’s brogue was a part of her own mother and grandmother she loved to mimic when the appropriate occasion would arise. To this day I myself love to break into a bit of the brogue and whenever I do, I feel my grandmother smiling down on me for carrying on a piece of our history.

So to all of you who are of Irish descent and to those of you who simply like to try on a bit of Irish for a day, I say to you (imagine me with an Irish accent) what my grandmother used to say:

“May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
Slow to make enemies,
Quick to make friends,
But rich or poor, quick or slow,
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.”

Beannachtam na Femle Padraig!



** Click here to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Equilibrium





** “Tango.” ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

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noun equi·lib·ri·um \ˌē-kwə-ˈli-brē-əm, ˌe-\

: a state in which opposing forces or actions are balanced so that one is not stronger or greater than the other

: a state of emotional balance or calmness

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I have been thinking a lot lately about equilibrium. As humans we are in a constant struggle to reach it, some of us more so than others. 

A few days ago I was feeling stressed so I made it a priority to drive out to the local wildlife area and take myself on a walk. As I walked, I found myself involved in a battle to clear my mind. I was trying very hard to let go of the noisy, jumbled list of to-do’s that was being broadcast on one side of my brain while attempting to hush the nagging voice of worry and doubt that was trying to take over my internal dialogue from the opposite side. At the same time my whole mind was working overtime to oppose my spirit. The spirit that desired nothing less than to embrace peace. 

As hard as I tried, peace would not be mine that morning. I drove home feeling defeated.

Sometimes life brings you gifts when you least expect them but are most in need of receiving them. One of those gifts arrived that morning as I turned onto my street and pulled into the driveway. I noticed a police car parked in front of our neighbor’s house. As I opened the door and set my keys down, two more police officers arrived. I could hear our neighbor Jenny inside her house yelling and wailing. 

Jenny suffers from Bipolar Disorder. She struggles constantly with maintaining a balance. Her equilibrium is off more times than it is on. Even with the help of medication she struggles. 

I stood on the porch and observed as the three police officers and Jenny came out of the house. She was highly agitated and began to walk fast circles in her driveway. The police officers were wonderful with her. Their voices were soft, encouraging, and kind. One of them gave her a gentle bear hug when she asked for one. I heard him say “we all need a hug every now and then.” 

Jenny continued her fast dizzying circles as she threw her hands in the air and began to preach about God and Heaven and how much she needed to go back to the hospital. The officers redirected her whenever she headed towards the street. Her circles became larger the more manic she became then she would pause for a moment to look up towards the heavens as if waiting for an answer or some sort of relief from her mind’s frenzied state.

I felt my heart break for her and tears began to roll down my cheeks. 

I watched Jenny continue to struggle as if lost in some parallel universe where she could not find the doorway to come back home. Then she saw them. A row of beautiful flowers planted against the front of her house. She ran to the flowers and said, “this is exactly what I need to do!” She began to pull the flowers up by the handful to form a bouquet in her hands. Nature in all its beautiful glory was able to catch her attention and provide some semblance of peace for her shattered mind.

As the ambulance rolled away with Jenny and her bouquet, I realized I had found my own equilibrium in the scene that had unfolded before me. I was reminded of the fact we all struggle at times but even when we feel the furthest from peace, our spirits crave it, and seek it out, and eventually find it. My peace came that morning when I witnessed Jenny’s connection to the flowers. The flowers that were right there in front of me the whole time but I failed to notice them until Jenny pointed them out.



** Click here to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **