Sunday, August 26, 2007

Canada: Sensorium, Sight

In the northern realms of America the sense we tend to rely on the most is our sense of sight. Of all the senses in our collective cultural sensorium "vision" is used to assess and determine situations. Looking back in history it was the modern printing press, introduced in 1440 by the German Johann Gutenberg that began our shift into the "seeing is believing" paradigm. Over the next hundred years it was aided by several modern inventions, primarily the microscope.
Micro in latin meaning "small" and scope "to see". Philosophical ideas of the new era combined with the shift to a strong patriarchal system. All these factors working together in the shift to a culture primarily based on the sense of sight.

British Columbia is rich with beautiful imagery, specific to Nature. Vancouver dwellers are fortunate to have a thousand acre evergreen oasis within the city. What makes Stanley Park so different from other mega cities with parks is that this one is an evergreen forest with the water around the majority of it, giving it the feel of an island.
Across the Burrard Inlet in North Vancouver is fabulous lush forest, specifically the Capilano River Regional Park, Grouse Mountain and Capilano River. We visited the extremely tourist thick Capilano Suspension Bridge where the gem of the park is the Tree Adventure just on the other side of the gorge. Just before I crossed the wobbly 450 foot span I witnessed the trees on the other side. A magnificent, untouched span of towering trees stood beckoning to me, singing to my heart. My eyes filled with tears as I gasped at the beauty and majesty. The dense old growth forest is filled with Western hemlock, ancient Douglas-fir, Western red cedar and Sitka spruce. We learned that the tree most revered by the First Nations People of the area has been the cedar, in fact their storypoles are made from these silent giants, also referred to as "arbor vitae' translated to tree of life. Along our eco tour we learned that this area is part of the Temperate Rain Forest that is spattered along the western Pacific Rim as well as a few other areas around the world. This rare biome has seasonal variation with rainfall in the range of 60 to 200 inches per year. The moist air from the Pacific Ocean creates ideal growing conditions for the tall ancients inhabiting the area. The Coast Redwoods also grow in this biome but are not as prolific as the four previous mentioned trees and are not found in Canada. Our informative guide explained the eco-system of this biome including the dynamics of the food chain. The birds and bears of the forest consume the trout and salmon from the lakes depositing the bones of the fish onto the forest floor as fertilizer. Deeply inspired by the day, I drew a storypole my sketchbook illustrating this lovely circle of life.
The other major feast for the eyes came when we took the BC Ferry over to Vancouver Island. A coastal naturalist on board educated us about the local folklore and environment of the area. We saw quite of few bald eagles perched on the tops of trees. Unfortunately the day was very cold and gloomy, however, the clean ocean air and island views were enlivening. As I heard the guide speak about Salt Spring I remembered a friend had mentioned to us to go there. Thus, when we arrived at Victoria we hopped onto another ferry to the emerald realm of Salt Spring, one of over a dozen of the Gulf Islands. Later I was to learn that the artist Nick Bantouk has a studio here. Enchanted by the peace and rugged beauty of the isle, I vowed to return soon. It reminded me of the vital lush quality of Hawaii, the peaceful hippy atmosphere of Topanga and my summer days spent on Catalina Island. Returning to Victoria I was immensely disappointed by the amount of people and the disneyland-esque quality of the city. The following day we visited a storyboard artist Greg was working with at Rainmaker. Ken is very warm and friendly with a fabulous house surrounded by a grove of Canadian Oaks and filled with amazing artwork and artifacts. He designed the glass window in the front door of his 1950's ranch style house. From their we choose to over to Cathedral Grove, we choose the old growth forest over the Butchart Gardens. The power and vitality of eight hundred year old native trees is so far superior to experiencing a crowded, non authentic manicured garden scape. Cathedral Grove is located in the MacMillan Provincial Park appropriately named for the awe inspiring height of the trees and the quiet sacred quality of the environment. Woefully some of the park area is threatened by the construction of a cement parking lot. We would have liked to continue on our adventure to the tide pools of Botanical Beach and Hot Springs Cove, but had to catch our ferry back to the mainland.
Back in Vancouver more visual treats presented themselves at Granville Market, an urban oasis of artist studios, charming shops and a public market. Eve and I took the water ferry often to this magical place where we would walk for hours taking in the sights. A few minutes away in Kitsalano is Rainmaker Studios where Greg worked daily creating visual development with a team of other artists. The creativity and level of draftsmanship among the group is wondrous. We saw the film "Stardust" based on the graphic novel by the same name written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess. The film is delightful with great performances and does justice to the written word and illustrated story that we LOVE.

Our enchanted visual story of British Columbia ends here with a few links:
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Grouse Mountain
Vancouver Island
Salt Spring Island
Nick Bantouk
Granville Island
Neil Gaiman
Charles Vess
Stardust the Movie

Canada: Sensorium

The next few posts will delve into my sensorial experiences in British Colmbia over the last few weeks. This tour will take place through the five senses.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Canada Intro

I've just returned home from a very nurturing, fun, educational and exciting adventure in the British Columbia area of Canada. I feel restored with much to share after such a beauty filled journey.
The trip was a semi-vacation, due to Greg working on a CG (computer generated) animated film at Rainmaker Studios. My daughter, Eve, and I flew up to take in the sights and spend time with Greg while he was in Vancouver. I looked forward to new adventures to feed my inner artist while spending time with both Eve and Greg and getting away from home.
My one strong intention was to connect with a fellow, niche perfumer I have known for several years but never met in person. There is nothing like connecting, one on one, with another artist working in the same medium. This was my chance! Stay tuned as I share the full sensorium from the trip in the next series of blog entries.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Greetings from Vancouver, Canada, a city of tall, glass towers mimicked by tall green trees. It is quite a beautiful, metropolitan city along the North rim of the Pacific Ocean with dense wilderness. My first impression, looking down from the tiny window on the airplane, was GREEN. Quite a contrast to the Santa Monica Mountains which this time of year are a deep shade of ocher. I've concluded that this area is made up primarily of water+earth elementals, where as the Santa Monica Mountains are more fire+earth.

My first visit to this area was during art school. My grandma Ani, Mom, brother Luis and I all flew up to San Francisco, rented a car and then drove up the Pacific Coast. The most vivid memory from that trip is the striking, turquoise color of the water at Lake Louise and the trees of Jasper Forest. The picture, just above, is of my grandma and mom at Lake Louise.

The sensorium (how we experience or perceive the world through our senses) of Vancouver is very much like other mega-cities I have visited. Freshest in the archive of my mind it reminds me of Buenos Aires and New York. There is a definite modern European flavor and, although I've never been, it makes me think of Asian port cities such as Hong Kong. During this trip I have become keenly aware that the memory impressions of places are strongly made up of smell, influenced by both sight (the incredible view from our hotel) and sound (the constant drone of the city). The aroma of the underground parking garage mingled with the scent of frying immediately places me at my grandparents apartment on Libertador in Buenos Aires. Almost as if a parallel universe has opened up and transported me to family lunches, with homemade pastas, fresh farm cheese and dulce de leche from the ranch.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Vespertina Perfume

"Knowest thou the land, where the lemon trees bloom,
Where the gold orange glows in the deep thickets gloom,
Where a wind ever soft, from the blue heaven blows,
And the groves are of laurel and myrtle and rose."
- Goethe

The Visions of Vespertina is a collaborative music project created by Greg Spalenka and Michelle Barnes. They began the project during the eighties while living and working in New York City as professional illustrators. Michelle and Greg aligned their creative juices fusing their passions for art and music. As they worked on the music, a story of unrequited love emerged. Together they laid out their premise and after a six year gestation period birthed the CD, complete with a 24 page color booklet of their art. Later the CD was picked up by Celsius Records and can now be purchased at Greg's web site. I have lived with the music and story of Vespertina for over ten years now, facilitating Greg with story points as he morphs the initial story concept into a graphic novel and eventually a film. My knowledge of medicinal herbs, alchemy and mystics has been quite useful. Greg and Michelle had asked me to create a scent or series of scents for the CD several years back, but, the timing was never quite right. While Greg and I were in London in 2005, we came across a poster of the painting “Vespertina Quies” by Edward Burne-Jones. It was this painting that inspired Michelle to title the CD, “The Visions of Vespertina.” The introspective looking young maiden stands on a balcony, looking out as she gently touches a ring on her finger. Thus, the painting informed their original story for the CD.

Just before Comic Con 2007, Greg asked if I would create a signature botanical fragrance for the CD that would be showcased at the booth next to the music, creating a three fold sensorium; music, art and scent. Thrilled with the creative challenge, I quickly accessed all the Vespertina files in my minds eye and began working. Having been given complete artistic license by Greg, I decided to focus on creating the scent of Vespertina, the heroine. I asked Greg for some any relevant themes he felt were crucial to the concept of the fragrance. He shared the image of Vespertina manifesting a metaphysical rose and then placing it into Dante's heart. Perfect!

I decided to build the perfume around rose and other supporting floral notes. This alligned well with what I know of Vespertina’s devotional nature and her feminine qualities. Since the female character is a visionary mystic I wove in some of the essences I associate with this archetype; lotus, sandalwood, oud, frankincense and myrrh. The essences just mentioned indeed anchor the scent and have strong connections to the divine. I included chords of wood and amber to bring in the element of the earth. One of my teachers and friends, Gail Adrian, refers to cypress as having an affiliation with death. Several types of cypress were included to facilitate fixation as well as bring in the story element of the souls journey after death. The base also contains Angelica for its connection to the realms of the angels and the inner landscape. The heart revolves around rose and jasmine, supported by several other floral notes including lotus. Rose, as mentioned previously has a strong presence in the story as well as aroma therapeutic associations with the heart and healing. As I worked on this perfume I had Greg give me his feedback regularly to make sure that the fragrance was on track with his beloved character. There is a specific mystery in the story that has been woven into the perfume. The heart of the fragrance also includes several herbal notes relating to Vespertina’s upbringing in an fourteenth century English convent. The top notes include mainly citrus and spice topped with a bit of pepper for sparkle.

I combine my skills in aromatherapy, botanical perfume and symbolic story as an illustrator when building a perfume. However, I must admit that divine forces are called upon and indeed interact in my formulations.

Vespertina is a floral perfume with a progressive evolution moving from its spicy citrus top notes into the strong floral heart immediately. The dry down varies depending on skin chemistry. In some cases the vestiges of the evolution remain a floral hum, while on others the scent transcends into incense with wood or a wood and leather. Many perceive the fragrance as containing orange blossom although there is actually none in the formula. At the Comic Con where this perfume debuted, I witnessed with complete fascination the aromatic scope of this perfume and its process of molecular disbursement on varying skin types. It was perfect within the context of the character Vespertina and her adventure. I suggest taking a scent journey while listening to the music.
Vespertina Botanical Perfume ingredients include: Cambodian Oud, Vintage Mysore Sandalwood, Indian Attars, Chords of Amber and Wood, Rose, Jasmine, Lotus, Citrus, Spice, Black and Pink Peppercorn.

Roxana Illuminated Perfume - Vespertina™
Vespertina Artwork by ©Greg Spalenka, Vespertina photos and text ©Roxana Villa