Across all time and in every culture, persons of power have traveled to alternate realities on the vibrations of a journey drum.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A drum for mystery

I have made more than one hundred drums, and very rarely a drum is for mystery more than for humans.  This drum began as an custom order for a First Nations woman who occasionally was a guest performer with M’Girl.   She preferred an antler handle to the crossed-stick holder at the back and so the drum came home to me. 

This spirit animal and eagle came to the drum’s face when I first painted the hide.   Although I have never been in a place of uncertainty with who I am painting and how—this creature would not take an ordinary reality form, but continued to shift between a bear and a wolf.  

After the drum was returned I decided to redo the image and discovered I could not remove it from the deerskin—the earth pigment had become a tattoo.  This deer was old; its skin crossed with scars and patterns of scratches.  The strange creature and its bird companion began to look like some of the oracle cards I have painted for the Journey Oracle deck: shadowy figures shifting in and out of recognition.

The drum went out again to a new person who respected it deeply but found she could not live with it.  It started on the wall in the bedroom—which is a great place to store a drum because of the quiet energy and lower temperature—but soon the drum was down the stairs into the living room and then out by the door in the entry way.  Each time the woman could still feel the drum’s energy moving, as if in a continual shape shifting.   And so the drum came home to me.

The painting continues to alter its appearance as if in continual patterns of light and shadow.  I continue to feel unsettled about the creatures, wanting to re-establish the painting but not ever quite doing so.  The drum’s voice is deep and rich, as old deer skins often are, and yet I do not consider it one of the “good horses” in my shamanic drumming herd.  If you think this might be your drum, it might be wise to reconsider.

If you would like further conversation about this drum
email Kristen at

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How to paint a shamanic frame drum

When I paint a shamanic frame drum, the first thing I do is not have a plan for what to paint.  I let the drum skin show me, by gazing while in a light trance into its dried surface, looking for the eyes of something from the other side looking back at me.

My painting on deer skin is done with raw earth pigments. This is because these natural earth powders stain the skin in subtle hues without covering up the variations of color and pattern in the hide.  When I first began painting drums I used pigments from Lee Valley Tools and also raw potter's glazes, but now I use pigments from The Earth Pigment Company in Cortaro, Arizona.

Next in my painting on the rawhide drum, I try not to paint the creatures who are showing themselves to me, but instead to paint the background.  This feels like creating a shadow painting of colored dust behind the human and other than human beings.  With the exception of the eyes, I only indicate shapes and lines in the interior of figures in the most minimal way.  In this way they mostly present themselves.

The most challenging skill for me when painting a shamanic image on a frame drum is to not determine the arrangement and the relationship of the creatures.  This beautiful new drum is a perfect example.  For many days the large bird was clear, but what was beneath its outstretched wing?  When I finally saw the foal I first thought, "Oh no, this is a predator of the horse; who would want to have this drum?"  But I kept watching, and slowly the image of the bird's claws appeared.  I realized, "the bird is showing me it cannot hurt the baby horse, who is resting upon its talons. So this giant bird is a help to this newly born power creature."

What a subtle and powerful image.  I could never have been this clever.  This is why I let the spirits create the painting--I am only the artist's apprentice.

 If you would like me to be the artist's apprentice and paint your shamanic drum, contact Kristen at

17" frame drum of Cortes Island blacktail deer hide
spruce wood frame with cedar fittings
maple cross pieces wrapped in smoke tan leather

$350 unpainted
$450 painted

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