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

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

Visit to see more shamanic drums