Art has been my passion for as long as I can remember. It has consistently been the one element of my life which has nourished my spirit and given my life an extra layer of meaning. I became even more committed to art after a shamanic awakening in 2013 and from that moment it took on an added dimension for me. It was from that time that I truly made a commitment and began to really identify as an artist. I discovered that art and shamanism complement each other beautifully and that it is possible to bring about healing through art.
I gain a lot of pleasure from painting drums. Somehow it is a completely different experience to painting a canvas. Admittedly, it is not always the easiest of processes and each drum that I have painted has challenged me in some way or taught me a lesson of some sort. It goes without saying that a drum is a sacred tool. My aim is to create something uniquely special for the person for whom I am painting, resulting in a drum that they can connect with and build a close relationship with. One of my client’s, a lady from the States, called the drum I painted her ‘Heart Drum’ and that probably sums up what I aim to do. By painting the drum I am doing so much more than merely decorating it. I feel that I am imbuing it with spirit and with energy. The energy is built through connecting with the plants and animals that I paint and through connection to my client. Often, as I paint, I will receive messages which I know are intended for the person I am creating the drum for. Sometimes I receive lessons for myself as well, which often prove to be very valuable. Some drums are quieter, give less away. Others literally take me on a journey as I paint them; every drum is different.
To start right at the beginning of the process, the first consideration has to be what type of drum is to be painted. Whilst it is quite possible to paint onto skin, I am often asked to paint on synthetic drums. As a vegan, I am more than happy to do this. The skin on a synthetic drum makes the perfect surface for paint and I have found that the rather delicate techniques I use do not distort the tone or resonance of the drum. I have a number of synthetic, or fiberskyn, drums in my own collection and find them to be absolutely perfect for outdoor drumming; something I particularly enjoy. The skin is not affected by damp or temperature meaning that they produce a consistent sound, even when drumming in the rain. The problem, as I see it, with synthetic drums is that they are just a little too sterile when they come straight from the factory and this, I believe, is where painting comes in. Not only am I able to make the drum unique and extremely personal, I believe that the process which I go through imbues energy and soul into the drum.
I know that there are those who strongly advocate that synthetic drums should not be used in shamanic work and that only a genuine skin drum is appropriate. Personally I disagree with this sentiment. I am lucky that many of the people for whom I have birthed a vegan drum have kept in contact with me and have told me of their connection and experiences with their drums. Plus, of course, I have my own first hand experiences and can vouch for many deeply spiritual experiences with my synthetic drums atop Glastonbury Tor.
Next in the process, of course, is to decide what is to be painted upon the chosen drum. Some clients will have a very clear idea of what they would like. Often they will have an animal or bird they feel a connection with and this is what they wish to be represented on their drum. Sometimes clients have everything decided and my challenge is then how to translate this concept into a design that works. For example, one client told me that she wanted a black panther, banisteriopsis caapi, and the vine used to make ayahuasca … and that the panther was to be moving through space and time. Well, I have always claimed that I like a challenge and this request certainly felt like one! How to turn this idea into a design which worked well on a drum was my first test on what proved to be a most challenging yet deeply rewarding drum. I spent time studying the shape of the panther’s body, seeing how I could use the curves of its powerful physique to create a pleasing design within the circular confines of the drum. When coming up with a design, as well as working visually to design something which flows and works on a drum head, it is just as much about tuning into the subject to see how it wishes to be represented on the drum. For this I try to stay open and be as intuitive as possible.
It is not unheard of for the animal to make itself known to me before the client does. Recently I saw a photograph of a bear and instantly started to think about how I could paint this onto a drum. Later that day I received an e-mail from a lady who wanted a drum. She told me that she worked with a few different animal guides for different purposes including white horse, bear and jaguar. Well, it was pretty obvious to us both which one of those guides wanted to be on her drum.
I was once told by a client that she had an idea about what she would like painted on her drum but first she would like to know what I thought should be on there. At the time I had a busy schedule and no time that day to journey on it and ask my guides. As it turned out that was not what was required. Later that day, as I left my home to collect my young daughter from school, I rounded the corner and there, before me on the grass was the most enormous and impressive crow that I had ever seen. To begin with I had to question whether it was in fact a crow or a raven, it was so large. The encounter felt very intimate. The crow allowed me to come so close to him that I was able to observe, at close quarters, the beautiful shine on his feathers and the glint in his eyes. The experience felt so significant that later that day, in answer to my client’s question, I recounted my earlier experience. She then told me that she was thinking of a raven or a crow for her drum. Spirit had provided the answer for me without the need for a journey.
I love the way that I am so often guided by Spirit once I make that first connection and start the drum awakening process. A beautiful friend of mine asked me if I would paint a drum for her. She told me that she was not sure whether she wanted a doe but had also thought about wren. I tuned in and spent some time playing the drum and attempting to connect in order to find out what was needed from this drum and the message I received was that both the female deer and the wren were needed. I often listen to music when I paint. It helps me to tune out the mundane and slip into a trance like state. As I sat down to lay the first brush marks onto this particular drum, I set my music onto shuffle and the first track that came on was a recording of wren song. These types of synchronous events often happen during the drum birthing process. They act as confirmation that I am on the right track. Sometimes they are just so obvious and in your face that I am left quite amazed!
I find that once I tune in to my client I start to intuitively receive information for their drum. Sometimes I will journey to bring back ideas and inspiration but quite often I find that the ideas just come to me as I start to make that connection. When I painted the crow drum, my client knew she wanted a crow on her drum but she requested my input on what else should be depicted on there with him. Shortly after she had first made contact with me, a month or so before the commission was placed, I found myself thinking about painting fly agaric toadstools onto a drum. The image kept nagging away at me to the point where I actually thought about asking around to see whether anyone wanted a fly agaric drum. Then, when I was asked what else was needed on the drum, the image came together in my mind and I just knew that the fly agarics were meant to be painted alongside the crow. On telling this to my client I found out that the fly agaric had been playing a big part in her recent shamanic work so was the perfect addition to this drum art.
I have found that plants, trees and fungi often want to be included along with the animal medicine that I weave into these drums. These energies are important too and usually impart their own lessons whilst adding to the overall energy of the drum. I had a most peculiar and interesting time when painting the fly agaric toadstools onto the crow drum. To be honest they led me on a merry dance. I found the energy to be quite tricksy and my perception became rather challenged. Things would appear a certain way and then, when I came back and looked at what I had painted the next day, I noticed strange (but luckily correctable) mistakes which I had just not been able to see the day previous! This happened on more than one occasion whilst I was painting the fly agarics. All was most definitely not as it appeared!
I think that the act of studying either an animal, bird or a plant with the aim of painting it, allows one to make a deep connection with it. When I work, I like to really study the detail of what I am painting. Without a doubt, I am a detail freak. I spend hours and hours immersing myself in the individual hairs, the reflection in an eye and the glimmer on a feather. It is when I lose myself in these details that I find that the messages come through. Sometimes little whispered words that I somehow pull forwards to a place where I can put them into something tangible.
I find it is a good idea to ask questions like one would during a journey. I am often then presented with the answers. Bear told me that his drum was all about retrieval. When I told my client this she informed me that Bear is the guide she works with to retrieve souls and that was why she wanted the drum. Sometimes it can be an overall feeling or energy that I pick up on. When I was painting the white stag drum, I kept being told that this was a drum of the Fae; that there was a strong faery connection with this drum. I tentatively mentioned this to the lady I was birthing this drum for, slightly worried I may have made a mistake, but luckily it made complete sense to her.
As I work, my intention is to place energy into the drum which is just right for the person for whom it is being awoken. I try to weave these energies in as I work, being guided by Spirit and allowing Spirit to work through me. I find it interesting how the way in which I paint can change depending upon my subject.
Painting Bear recently, I found I was being much more daring and confident with my style than I usually am. Often as I paint, I can hear the drum almost singing to me, gently humming away as my brush dances across the surface. At times I will feel compelled to do things which might appear odd from the outside, for example dancing for the drum. I think that this is all part of the process of building up the energy of the drum I am creating.
When I feel that the drum is finally complete – and this can sometimes be a difficult decision to make – I take the drum to the Chalice Well in Glastonbury for a blessing. I am lucky to live just a short walk from this beautiful place, a world peace garden which sits on the slopes of Chalice Hill where the iron rich, red spring water comes up from under the hill. During the drum painting process I naturally place a lot of my own energy into the drum. It is an all-consuming process and requires my complete dedication. When the painting is done it is time to release my energies and dedicate it to its new owner and the work which it will be doing once it arrives in its new home.
In the Chalice Well, I try to connect with the Spirits of the place and then hold the drum above the sacred well head and ask that it be blessed and charged with the energies required for the work it is to do with its new owner. I put a lot of love into each drum that I paint whilst always ensuring I do not become so attached to it that I will not want to send it on its way. I create each drum for someone else, so that intention is always there. The blessing at the well is a nice way for me to say goodbye to a creation which has taken so many hours of dedication to produce.
When I first started painting drums, I had no idea just how much I would fall in love with the process and what joy I would gain from making a connection to someone and birthing a drum for them. All in all, I feel blessed that people entrust me with this special task and I am looking forward to creating many more special drums in the future.
Sharyn has been painting and drawing as long as she can remember. Born in East Anglia, Sharyn grew up on her family’s farm on the edge of the Fens. In 2010 she moved west and she has now made her home in the sacred town of Glastonbury, Somerset. Here she lives, nestled on the foothills of Chalice Hill and Glastonbury Tor, where the land rises from the Somerset Levels and the mists of Avalon hang above the fields. It is from this home that Sharyn channels her deep connection with the land into her artwork; her inspiration coming from the magic so inherent in the land and guided by dreams, messages, runic energies and shamanic journeys.
For more information please visit http://www.sharynturner.com/.
This article first appeared in Issue 37 of Indie Shaman magazine.