An artistic experience

Tuesday, November 05, 2002 -

Harmony Kennedy

The Times-Standard

ARCATA -- Artist Shelly Mortensen is excited to share a new method of watercolor painting which combines the holistic healing tradition of flower essence therapy with watercolors.

Her flower essence watercolor landscapes are featured in the 2003 Coast Central Credit Union calendar. Prints from the calendar will be on display at the Arcata MainStreet office in Jacoby's Storehouse throughout the month of November. A reception for the artist will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday during Arts! Arcata.

Mortensen's paintings blend various hues into depictions of Humboldt County locales, including Big Lagoon and Trinidad Head, along with animal species such as fish, birds, butterflies and, of course, flowers.

What are flower essences? The Flower Essence Society website offers the following explanation. The first flower remedies were formulated by a British physician, Dr. Edward Bach, in the 1930s, although new remedies from other plant species are now available. Flower essences are herbal infusions or decoctions made from the flowering part of the plant, which uniquely address emotional and mental aspects of wellness.

"Basically what happens, and this is a course description," said Mortensen, "when you put a bag of tea in your hot water, it releases its properties. Well, (making the flower essence) basically does the same thing. It releases its etheric patterning and then people use this to assimilate it to help them balance different aspects of their lives."

To understand how flower essences work requires a recognition that the human being is more than a physical body, but also incorporates a "body" of life energy, a "body" of sensitivity and feelings, and a spiritual essence or self. Flower essences are energetic imprints of the life force of plants which interact with these subtle bodies of the human being, and evoke specific qualities within us. They work in a similar way to inspirational music or art, which carry meaning through the vehicle of sound or light, while the flower essences work through the medium of water, according to the Flower Essence Society website.

Granted, one must have an open mind when trying to understand the flower essence approach. Mortensen, who resides in the Stone Lagoon area, is very familiar with it because she has incorporated flower essence therapy into her life for about 20 years. Although she is not a practitioner, she has used flower essence therapy by mixing it in drinking water or using it topically to treat herself and her family for such things as allergies or fatigue.

One day Mortensen's husband, Eric, was watching her use the sun method of preparation to make chamomile essence -- by floating chamomile flowers in a crystal bowl of water, then heating it in the sun -- when he suggested that she use the chamomile essence, instead of tap water, to paint watercolors.

When Mortensen tried this, the results were astonishing. She first experimented with chamomile, snapdragon and poppy essences, with each one resulting in markedly different effects on paper. Shown on a posterboard, Mortensen uses paintings of the three flowers as examples to show these differences. Two paintings of the same image are placed side by side, one painted with tap water and the other using that flower's essence. The chamomile flower created with tap water shows a very clear image of the flower and, beside it, the painting created with chamomile essence has less distinct lines which seems to convey a slight movement or vibration. Mortensen repeated this process with snapdragon and poppy essences. The snapdragon painting created with the flower essence formed crystals and had a velvety-looking finish. The snapdragon image created using tap water, however, had sharper lines and lacked the crystals and velvety-finish.

When asked what accounts for these differences, Mortensen explains she is just beginning to understand the ability of flower essences to add a new dimension to watercolors.

"I'm just learning what it is. But, what I've found out in working with the essences is that primarily, and first and foremost, they're about vibration. (The flower essences) each have an individual signature of their own," said Mortensen. "And part of the excitement of doing this work is discovering what that signature is and opening myself up to being shown."

Mortensen was raised on a coastal ranch near San Simeon, where her love of nature flourished. She spent 25 years as a real estate broker but, as she said, the job "didn't fit." What does fit is her passion for painting and exploring the endless boundaries of flower essence watercolor. She has enlarged her artistic realm through classes at College of the Redwoods where she will soon complete her art studies.

One of Mortensen's watercolors, depicting the Eureka waterfront with Victorian homes in the background, can be found on the city of Eureka's website at . She plans to offer workshops in flower essence watercolor in 2003 and has applied for the Victor Thomas Jacoby Award, offered by the Humboldt Arts Council and the North Coast Cultural Trust, in hopes of realizing that goal. She and her family have lived in Humboldt County for 12 years.

Mortensen explained that using flower essences instead of tap water has lent her a whole different approach to art and has really expanded what she thought she knew about watercolors.

"With tap water and watercolor you have to take the lead, because tap water is neutral. That makes it an excellent conductor, but it doesn't really show you anything. When you put this vibrational water (flower essence) to use with your watercolors, it's pro-active, it's very much a participant in the process," she said. "You have to be respectful and aware and willing to learn from it or you'll run into problems trying to make it do what you want it to do. That's what I learned right off the bat is that we had to cooperate with each other because I couldn't just push it around like I did with water. And that was startling to me."

In the introduction on the inside of the 2003 Coast Central Credit Union calendar, Mortensen wrote that "this concept is not really as far-fetched as one may think. These essences have nothing to do with fragrance. It is energy and vibration, which is how we see color. Pointillism, George Seurat's 'Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,' is a good example of the idea of color and vibrational qualities. The artist realized, after studying the theories of Helmholtz and Chevreul and the colors of the spectrum, that by painting little dots of primary colors, very closely together, the vibration of these colors would meld or juxtapose together when viewing them from a distance into what would appear to be new colors ... There was an optical illusion by vibration of their blending."

A limited number of Mortensen's calendars are being sold at the following locations: The Art Center in Eureka and Arcata; Arcata MainStreet office; Arcata Chamber of Commerce; Wear it Well in Arcata; Morris Graves Museum of Art in Eureka; Trinidad Market, and online at Mortensen's website, .

1999-2002 MediaNews Group, Inc.

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