Tools & Talismans #23 — Amy Bloom

T&T #23 Amy Bloom.jpg

Yes, #23. When I first began this project there were so many things that I was "hesitant" to paint. Oh let's see: fur, photos of people, wood, reflections, metal... yeah, I think those are the top 5, and so I skipped around a bit. If I go by the order of posting, I think I did that until Tools & Talismans contributer #33. But here I am, back at #23. This submission is from one of my all-time favourite writers: Love Invents Us, Away, and the short story collection Come to Me are a couple of Amy Bloom's titles — I hope anyone who hasn't heard of her will look her up.

This painting was particularly challenging because the photo was small and I couldn't see things clearly and so I “hesitated” and skipped ahead, and kept skipping ahead, and when I finally came back to it this week I decided I'd interpret and hope for the best — kind of a metaphor for life I think. I never read the words that accompany the photo until after I'm done painting so there are a few things I'll explain before I post Amy's words:

  1. The photo of her father is at center back. I like that I didn't know he was there, but nevertheless, there is a ghostly image of a person {and I'm feeling his skepticism}.
  2. The cartoon {which Amy doesn't talk about} has a caption that says: “Remorse sits in my stomach like a piece of stale bread. How does THAT sound?”
  3. And now, here's Amy:

I keep my desk as spare as possible but sometimes everybody and everything come crowding up. The photos are of my parents, my mother in her glamorous 20s, as a gossip columnist in Manhattan; my father, a journalist, in the Tivoli Gardens with a typical and skeptical look on his face. Ganesha is my talisman because who would not want the God of intellectual perseverance, curiosity, sexuality and candy on their side, every day? Pens and paper are the way in which I remind myself, most sharply. CalenMob is good but it has no muscle memory. The tomato can is a tribute to my friend, the painter Connie Brown, who has rows of them in her studio. And a few of the books that I rely on, for comfort, for the sentence, for the story in the corner. They are the friends I call at three a.m.

Amy Bloom is a writer and reader.


Tools & Talismans is a personal painting project where I document {in watercolor} the tools and talismans of 100 different women — creators and healers, thinkers and makers, wordsmiths and visionaries. Join me — I'll be sharing a new painting with you every Wednesday.

Would you like to have your very own Tools & Talismans painting to inspire, support and remind you of all the things that make you “you”, as you go about your days, grow your business and create your life? Get in touch so we can talk, I'd love to hear from you!

Tools & Talismans #98 — Alyson Stanfield

T&T #98 Alyson Stanfield.jpg

My mother gave me both the magic wand and the glass heart separately. I must have been in my 30s when I received them, and I do, when necessary, wave the magic wand and recite a wish. The first time I did this was to ask that Mom’s breast cancer disappear. It worked!

I have all kinds of fit-in-your-palm talismans, but this one is so smooth and inviting. And it’s a heart! I invoke all the love I have — for Mom, my husband, family, friends, and clients — when I caress it in my hands.

The teacup was my grandmother’s. I have her whole set of china — English Crown Ducal. Not that I needed it because she gave me my own set — piece by piece — as I was growing up. That’s another story, but her cups fit perfectly underneath the espresso machine’s spouts. I drink from one of these cups every morning - confident that my cup of coffee is probably much tastier than what she drank. Even tastier because I’m drinking from a beautiful heirloom teacup.

The shoe insoles for the bottom of my feet are because I teach. I’m on my feet for long periods of time and these are good on my toes.

I always have a pen and small notebook in my purse. The truth is there’s usually either 3 or 4 pens or no pens. It stinks to have a great idea or want to remember something and have nothing to write it on. While I love my digital tools, there’s nothing like pen and paper. Sharpie pens are my latest favorite brand. Moleskine for paper.

The tube is smelly stuff. This one happens to be Zen Blend by Earth Sweet Essential Oils in Boulder, Colorado. I don’t necessarily have a favorite, but I am energized by the right scents. I confess to being a hound for diffusers, smelly candles, and room sprays. Couldn’t fit them all in the photo.

I saved the best for last: chocolate chips. Ghirardelli Bittersweet to be exact. I have a stash at home and at the office. They are my go-to after-meal treat. Yes, I can eat just one and be satisfied, but 4 (shown here) is more like it.

Alyson Stanfield is the ArtBiz Coach.


Tools & Talismans is a personal painting project where I document {in watercolor} the tools and talismans of 100 different women — creators and healers, thinkers and makers, wordsmiths and visionaries. Join me — I'll be sharing a new painting with you every Wednesday.

Would you like to have your very own Tools & Talismans painting to inspire, support and remind you of all the things that make you “you”, as you go about your days, grow your business and create your life? Get in touch so we can talk, I'd love to hear from you!

Tools & Talismans #97 — Susa Talan

T&T #97 Susa Talan.jpg

Yellow flowers in vase:  I buy these flowers at a local farmer's market and dry them. I have two vases of them in my studio. This little one with the stems cut short in a clear glass vase and then a larger light blue glass vase with 3 yellow poms, their long stems intact. I love them. They bring me an unparalleled feeling of happiness and ease to look at them. In the last couple years, I've discovered more directly how much color and form are very deep friends — like long-time companions, that I knew were there, but somehow missed their significance. These yellow pom flowers (I don't even know their proper name) have been a big part of that discovery and a very grounding addition to my studio life. Something about their shade of yellow, the texture of the pom itself, their bulbous heads and tiny, wooden bodies that feels deeply, aesthetically pleasing. I look to them often throughout the day, almost like a reset button for my mind.

Three rocks:  These 3 rocks have individual and collective significance for me. Together, they sit on our little make-shift altar at home in the area where my partner and I meditate. The rock to the far right (brown, with rings) is a rock I chose to use in a ceremonial going away circle at Insight Meditation Society, a Buddhist meditation center in Central MA where I worked from 2007-2008. When a staff member leaves, we offer them a closing circle. Anyone who wants to can join. It's often early in the morning, 8am, up in the attic staff sitting area. For my "check out" as we call it, people held this rock and shared thoughts, memories, wishes for me on my departure. So many people that I love were there. Many of whom are still in my life. I haven't been without it since that day. I took it with me to Burma, where I practiced for 4 months (and temporarily ordained) in 2010. The other two rocks my Mom gave me for my trip to Burma. The one on the left feels playful, a tiny ice cream cone or glass of soda spilling over — it also looks to me like a mini volcano or foam on a wave. I love the variability. The heart rock, in particular, feels special — mostly because it's from my Mom. She collects rocks and shells every time she goes to the beach. She carried this one in her raincoat for almost a year before she gave it to me. I love that. These 3 rocks are like tethers to what I care most about. Wisdom/path, connection, creativity. They have witnessed the evolution of my spiritual path: discovering the possibility of being awake and the nature of the way things are, and the community I carry with me and am a part of, always.

Beads: These beads have a similar meaning to me as I detailed above. I found them in a room at IMS that I was cleaning while working there. Someone left them behind. I've been told that this is how you should receive mala beads — as a gift. I also carried them to Burma and for many years on every flight, I took — keeping me company with a pervasive fear of flying. I am not as afraid as I used to be, so I don't carry them anymore. But they remind me of my own strength, inner friendship and the many, many people who have walked this path, and this life, before me. I don't wear them so much as they live nearby, often draped over a Buddha in my studio or near our bed. They remind me when I start to take myself too seriously, that there's more to the moment than just ME.

Micron Pens: These different sized pens have been my primary tools the last 3 years. Before finding them, I used paint brushes and paper, thread and glue. I was an abstract artist, and one who dabbled and felt a lot of doubt — adrift from my own creative voice. These pens came into my life at a time when I was ready to start simplifying my creative experience — kind of like, one last dance. Now or never. So I gave myself a year-long project: one drawing a day. No paper, no canvas, no big ideas. Just one. Precise. Singular. Simple. Repeat. So over the last 3 years, 005, 01, 02, 03, 05 and 08 have been my closest creative pals. Ever ready! And quite reliable. I have deep gratitude for them.

Postcard print: This block print is of a piece by one of my favorite artists who also happens to be a dear childhood friend. Anna Hepler. I have the actual print of this piece in my home (along with 3 other prints that she gave me, many years ago). This piece in particular, like the yellow poms (and in conjunction with them — they are color companions) makes me feel pretty aesthetically complete. Another dear companion, I look to this piece, these colors, this form, nearly every day for quietude, ease, joy. It's hard to describe. It's a non-verbal feeling of looking at nature, at myself, at something that is a part of me, or my experience of being human. It's deeply, deeply soothing and stimulating, both.

Tiny pillow: I made this tiny pillow at a weekend creative retreat with some dear friends I met teaching at Squam Arts Workshop a few years back. These ladies brought us through a bunch of creative, colorful activities together. My first foray into a group creative experience since high school. And so much more fun. There's lavender in this little pillow. It reminds me that I can make things with my hands — soft, textured, colorful things. And it's soothing. I smell it often. And keep it near my bed. Again, the colors (blues, pinks, cream) have somatic significance (in a non-verbal way).

Susa Talan — Illustrator, artist. Creative maker. Gratitude champion.


Tools & Talismans is a personal painting project where I document {in watercolor} the tools and talismans of 100 different women — creators and healers, thinkers and makers, wordsmiths and visionaries. Join me — I'll be sharing a new painting with you every Wednesday.

Would you like to have your very own Tools & Talismans painting to inspire, support and remind you of all the things that make you “you”, as you go about your days, grow your business and create your life? Get in touch so we can talk, I'd love to hear from you!

Tools & Talismans #96 — Kay Turner

T&T #96 Kay Turner.jpg

Years ago as a graduate student in folklore at the University of Texas at Austin in the late 1970s, I began meeting and interviewing Texas-Mexican women for my dissertation on folk Catholic home altars, later published in an expanded consideration of this tradition as Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women’s Altars (Thames and Hudson, 1999). As legacy and inheritance passed down to them from their mothers and grandmothers, these women were primarily devoted to their family saints, Our Lady of Guadalupe, La Virgen del Valle, and others represented on their private altars in the form of statues, prints, or paintings handed down over the years. But their altars, layered profuse, and lively, also contained other items of a more secular, even idiosyncratic nature. A marriage photo propped against a Guadalupe statue; a jar of buttons next to a votive candle; a prayer booklet on top of a funeral card on top of a Mother’s Day card; a child’s doll; a necklace wrapped around a picture of John F. Kennedy; a garden rock or shells mixed with flowers, fresh or plastic. I remember being astounded by these deeply felt, personal compositions.

One of the most profound things that I — raised as an image-deprived Presbyterian — learned from these elders was the way an intermingling of sacred and secular altar objects produces a synergy of faith, reality, history and memory. This powerful co-mingling makes it possible to represent a quirky religious sensibility not based on bloodless doctrine but on bodily relationship to the living and the dead, to nature and culture, to saints and family, sacred and profane.

Studying altars with these tejanas, and subsequently many other women, coincided with memories of my childhood and how I first came to apprehend the special thingliness of “talismans and tools” long before I knew the meaning of sacred and secular. I collected and possessed and kept hidden in the attic of our small Detroit house certain power objects, akin to what psychologist D.W. Winnicott termed “transitional objects:” the blanket or teddy bear that helps children find their way from the womb into the world. But some children, such as me, need more than a blanket; we need a transitional arsenal! And even then some. My queer collection included a picture of Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger, a key chain, a coin purse, a Petoskey stone, a gathering of dandelion fluff, and other items I no longer remember

What I do remember is the sense of self-power these objects gave me as I held them, spoke to them, and imbued them with magic, feeling, and fantasy. That sense of the liveliness of the material world has never left me. Nor has my sense that random, meaningless objects can be assigned a powerful interactive status that can help compel the day. That’s all I need, along with two cups of coffee. I marshal various helper things around me, some are on my altar, others on the window sill, or within an arm’s length on my big desk, where I work, computer-bound, amidst book piles, journals, mechanical pencils (always No. 9 lead size), ballpoint pens (blue or black ink only), legal pads and scratch pads, for much of the day. All of my special talismans have their stories to tell. When I greet my little sculpture of Sedna, the half-woman/ half seal goddess, she speaks to me of the long crawl from sea to land that eventually made us humans. When I gaze at the bronze bookends in the form of naked women on horses, I am drawn to their adventurous spirit and to the memory of my mother, who bought them and also loved to ride away on an escapade. When I handle the plastic Halloween witch’s nose, still in its garish orange and black packaging, I laugh and re-dedicate myself to finishing my new book on witches before 2020! I sing Madonna’s 1998 song “Ray of Light” as I work to perfect yet another phrase or sentence:

Faster than the speeding light she’s flying
Trying to remember where it all began
She’s got herself a little piece of heaven
Waiting for the time when Earth shall be as one
And I feel like I just got home
And I feel
And I feel like I just got home
And I feel

Only I know the meaning of the talismans and tools that comprise my “little piece of heaven.” They are my private stash of Eros. With them, I always “feel like I just got home.” With them I always Feel.

Kay Turner, writer, folklorist, ritualist, punk rock singer/songwriter, author of Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women’s Altars.


Tools & Talismans is a personal painting project where I document {in watercolor} the tools and talismans of 100 different women — creators and healers, thinkers and makers, wordsmiths and visionaries. Join me — I'll be sharing a new painting with you every Wednesday.

Would you like to have your very own Tools & Talismans painting to inspire, support and remind you of all the things that make you “you”, as you go about your days, grow your business and create your life? Get in touch so we can talk, I'd love to hear from you!

Tools & Talismans #95 — Anna Guest Jelley

T&T #95 Anna Guest Jelley.jpg

I'm not able to show up in the world how I want to, personally or professionally, if I'm disconnected from my most important source of wisdom, my own body. My yoga practice, and these tools here that make it work for me in different ways, are what sensitize me to both my inner and outer worlds. They help me listen within, develop a deeper relationship with myself, and discern patterns about my own reactions, as well as what works for me and what doesn't. I think of them as the tools beneath the tools, in the sense that though I use my keyboard to do much of my work, without my yoga tools and practice, nothing of meaning could happen at the keyboard. In that regard, my yoga tools rise to the level of talisman because after working with them for many years, they have a potency all their own. Just stepping onto my mat now is enough to evoke a deep breath and a shift from doing to being, where I can recharge and reconnect.

Anna Guest-Jelley is a yoga teacher and writer.


Tools & Talismans is a personal painting project where I document {in watercolor} the tools and talismans of 100 different women — creators and healers, thinkers and makers, wordsmiths and visionaries. Join me — I'll be sharing a new painting with you every Wednesday.

Would you like to have your very own Tools & Talismans painting to inspire, support and remind you of all the things that make you “you”, as you go about your days, grow your business and create your life? Get in touch so we can talk, I'd love to hear from you!