Shared Beat

Earlier this year I read a book written by a local author about the Lascaux cave paintings.  I have always been drawn to the quality of this prehistoric art–how vivid and alive the lines are and how with so few strokes the artists captured the essence of a living being.  When my husband approached me about painting “totem animals” on the surface of drums he is fashioning out of whiskey and wine barrells, I knew where to turn for inspiration.

Let me back up a bit….

Clark’s “Bubba Taiko” drums have been a hit at the drum circles to which he totes them all over Austin. They are large, and make a big sound.  It has been no small task engineering these drums, and Clark has spent many an hour searching the internet for practical guidance. After teaching himself how to weld, and creating his own (in his words) more crudely designed hardware, he has recently opted for commercially designed pieces which he has had to order from Thailand.  Not only is the hardware more aesthetically pleasing, it is ultimately more functional, and helps keep the skin of the drumhead more tautly stretched.  Originally, Clark’s plan was to simply stain the drums, and indeed his first one is stained a lovely red.  We both agreed, however, that the drums can have more personal–and universal–meaning as artifacts if we customized them.  Thus the idea of  totem animas was hatched.

We see a lot of animals on our walks around Town Lake, and to us, the most special among these are the Blue Heron, Cardinals and turtles.  As Texans, we are also fond of Armadillos and Horny Toads.  And though we are not big fans of snakes, we do admire them for their power, beauty and archetypal significance.  Clark is fond of fishing, so Red Fish seemed another logical choice for a “totem animal.”

This last Sunday, I honored my promise to paint these animals on a “proto-type” drum in preparation for painting Clark’s latest,  “new and improved”  version of Bubba Taiko.  In the spirit of the cave paintings, I decided to use charcoal which my Mother had found in a dig near Ghost Ranch. This charcoal, which is millions of years old , found among dinasaur bone fragments, has special significance for me because Ghost Ranch is my spiritual Mecca.

I had made several sketches of the animals I intended to draw and paint on the drum, but still felt ill-prepared as I began.  My goal was, simply, to make as few lines as possible, keeping the drawings fresh, calligraphic.  The charcoal is crumbly, and not as easy to use as commercial grade, but I thought of what my prehistoric predecessors were able to do with their own crude materials and stopped worrying.  For paint I decided to use acrylics, choosing a very simple, earthy palette of burnt umber and burnt sienna, white and a touch of cobalt blue. Without using any brushes, I smudged the paint with my fingers and with a kitchen sponge which I tore into various sizes. I sprayed a layer of fixitive on the whole thing after I finished–we plan to seal it with another coat of clear matte acrylic.

As I look over at the finished “piece” I am pleased with the result. Clark is happy, too.  For the most part I succeeded in fulfilling our shared vision and am prepared to move on to the bigger drum.  I love the ritual aspect of the making of the drum and how it used; and I loved making the preparatory sketches and observations for drawing and painting on it. Also, the Ghost Ranch charcoal,  which I was saving for some vaguely imagined future project,  seems perfect for this personally envisioned, unique artifact.

Clark has no specific plans for these drums other than they be well-crafted and used for drumming.  Perhaps he will sell them if offers are made, but in the meantime they provide us with a lovely opportunity for artistic, musical and spiritual collaboration.


  1. glad to have been reminded to check out your blog. love the content but if i don’t just copy & paste it somewhere else, reading long entries with this little contrast, especially light on dark, is challenging.
    is there a way *I* can change the visual on your site?

    looking forward to more bout conference!


  2. Judith, Hi. Is this better? I adjusted the colors….thanks for your comments.


  3. oh that’s great. thanks so much!


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