Tuesday, October 30, 2007


"Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble."
Macbeth Quote (Act IV, Scene I).

Samhain, meaning summers end, is the last of the eight seasonal celebrations. It is a time when the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest and psychic perception high. Essential Oils associated with psychic awareness include: Frankincense, Lotus, Clary Sage, Rose and Sandalwood.

Artwork title "Princess" © Greg Spalenka - www.spalenka.com

Monday, October 29, 2007

Jean-Claude Ellena

The cover of yesterdays "Image" section of the Sunday LA Times features an article on minimalist, French, perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. An interesting read on the fragrance poet and his mode of creating perfume. Chandler Burr, the New York Times perfume critic, did a much more complex portrait in the March 2005 issue of The New Yorker Magazine.
LA Times Article
New Yorker Article
Chandler Burr

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Spectrums of Color and Aromatics

"Some perfumers are as fragrant an an infant's flesh,
sweet as an oboe's cry, and greener than the spring." ~ Baudelaire

In the art forms of visual, musical and aromatic art there are many parallel universes. Today lets look at the relationship of color to aromatic materials. In 1992 Jeanne Rose devised the “Basic Seven Vocabulary of Odors”™ to help her students formulate a language for describing scent combined with a visual tool. This is not a fragrance wheel used to define fragrance families in perfume. The Vocabulary of Odors”™ is a system, adopted from the Perfumers Guide specific to Natural/Botanical perfume, to describe notes that exist in any object containing a fragrance. For example when we inhale the scent of a collection of fresh fruits the note we primarily experience is fruity. Complex aromas contain dominant notes with subsidiary and back notes. The dominant note in a stargazer lily flower is floral with a subsidiary note of spice. The world of wine uses a similar classification system.

Jeanne Rose organized it as follows:

Red = Floral
Orange = Fruity
Yellow = Citrus
Green = Green/Vegetative
Blue = Woody
Indigo = Herbaceous/Camphoraceous
Violet = Spice

Once learned then you can describe a scent using the correct terminology, the universal language of perfume. This vocabulary can be further expanded, eventually including a list of twenty eight descriptive words.
Floral, Powder, Honey, Oily/Fatty, Musk/Amber, Waxy, Fruity, Aldehyde, Hay, Citrus, Green, Vegetative, Conifer, Mint, Almond-like, Fungal, Marine, Moss, Wood, Smoke, Leather, Earth, Civet, Herbal, Camphor, Balsamic, Carmel and Spicy. Can you think of more? Here are some: Resinous, Rich, Edible or Gourmand, Agrestic (referring to rich hay-like notes), Animalic and Balsamic.

Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) essential oil (EO) has dominant notes of Wood and Herbaceous/Camphoraceous with a back note of Green/Vegetal and a subsidiary note of Spice. Patchouli does not have a Fruity note, thus we would term Fruity as being absent. If we were using the twenty eight word vocabulary we would lead with the word Earthy and add Musk/Amber to our back or subsidiary note. It all depends “which” patchouli you are experiencing. Each patchouli will be different depending where it comes from (Indonesia, Madagascar or India) how it is produced (EO, C02 or absolute) and how old it is. An aged patchouli may have a dominant note of Floral compared to a really fresh, newly distilled patchouli that can be very Green/Vegetative.

Jeanne Rose

Basic Seven Vocabulary of Odors™

Wine 101

The Wine Aroma Wheel

The first image above is titled "Rainbow Man", an original painting created with acrylic veils on prepared board, the second image, a horizontal bar of seven colored squares, was created using several of Roxana's existing paintings. Both images are ©Roxana Villa.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Elemental Air+Fire

Friday in the late afternoon I began an intensive weekend course on Natural/Botanical Perfumery, really working the olfactory muscles in a big way. I'd arrive home after a very full day, exhausted on multiple levels. Saturday night, or was it the wee hours of Sunday morning, in between bizarre dreams of fragrance families I was awakened by "swooshing" type sounds. At first I thought "wind"...no, wait....is it rain? As I lay there in a space between worlds I was reminded that the elementals (Air, Fire, Water and Earth) have the ability to remain calm and serene or in massive motion. The wind blowing around our little home was most definitely in a state of extreme vitality. Today I learned that the winds were gusting at hurricane force.
The dynamics of the wind combined with very dry conditions has awakened Fire element. We currently have over twelve fires burning in the Southern California area, from Santa Ynez, up near Santa Barbara, all the way down to San Diego near the border of Mexico. Since the Winds remain extremely active fires blaze out of control, despite the best efforts of our local firefighters.
Fire in our area chaparral eco-system is part of a natural cycle. From vegetative growth, brought on by a very wet winter to drought to fire. The large fires, propelled by high winds in the Autumn, tend to move quickly through the sheer walls of the north and south running canyons. The fire gains agility by consuming the dry, woody brush as it becomes larger and sweeps through the Santa Monica Mountains. If the fire was allowed to burn through the canyons in its natural cycle, then we would not have this repetitive situation. However, due to all the homes that are now in these canyons as well as non-indigenous plants, like mustard, the natural cycle has been interrupted.
So, here we are, in the Santa Monica Mountains, at the tale end of one of those south to north running canyons, Topanga Canyon. We will see what Mother Natures elemental children have planned for our local area. As I write this, Air element continues to jostle, the sounds of helicopters is constant and the sight of smoke is visible in the distant hills.

BTW, the color orange is associated with the Fruity fragrance family, more on that soon.

LA County Fire Department website
City of Malibu website
LA Fire Dept. Blog

The image above center is cropped from an illustration titled "Anger Management", the element FIRE is often associated with anger. The image above and to the right is called "Light my Fire", both ©Roxana Villa.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Origins of Quercus, now Q

“For mine is an old belief ... there is a soul in every leaf.” ~ M.M. Ballou

In late 2005 we were just about to purchase the empty lot next to our little 1950 ranch style home in the Santa Monica Mountains. We had been patiently waiting for the opportunity since first purchasing our home in May 2000. To our horror the neighbor turned around and sold the tiny, substandard lot to a developer. Our intention with the lot was to preserve the four gigantic oak trees and create an indigenous garden. The intention of the developer was to take out all the trees and construct a 3500 square foot palace.
We had always been told that oak trees were protected. Indeed, Los Angeles has something called "The Protected Tree Ordinance", however, the ordinance means basically nothing when it comes to a developer wanting to build.
In the same parallel universe, the blending group I belong to was to make a perfume with the idea of Beltane. Beltane, like the upcoming Samhain, is one of the eight Celtic holidays. An ancient Druid holy day occurring on May 1st. Thus, on Beltane eve, I went out and gathered leaves from a large coastal live oak with the intention that the four trees would stay firmly rooted and thrive. I carefully cleaned the leaves and tinctured them as the base for my Beltane perfume contribution. While the tincture marinated I created a wood chord of sixteen different essential oils, absolutes and C02 extractions from the wood family. After filtering the tinctured leaves I began building the perfume, first with the wood chord and then adding other notes until the fragrance was complete. Pondering what to call the perfume I settled on Quercus, which is the botanical name for Oak. The reviewers in my group raved about the fragrance. One of them mentioned the following to me privately: "I cannot stop sniffing your newest which you call quercus. It is the same name as a Penhaligon cologne (not nearly as beautiful as yours) but I thought you should be familiar with it." At the time I thought, okay...well...we will see what transpires with this Quercus of mine.Today, a friend sent me a note with a little soap enclosed. I gasped when I opened it, on the white paper of the little round, carefully wrapped soap was the word QUERCUS. So, is this a challenge or not? They certainly share nothing similar in the fragrance department, although the Penhaligon description works for our Quercus: Citrus, Amber and Wood. How interesting and so synchronistic. From what I can see on their website the Penhaligon cologne does not appear to have a direct link to Oaks, rather, perhaps they liked the name? After all, Oaks are strongly connected to the Druids. Many of their perfumes are named after botanical nomenclature. My understanding is that one cannot copyright a word like Quercus.
As I write this the four large oaks and several other small ones on the lot are still standing. We have gone before our local Specific Plan Board several times insisting that the trees must not be endangered or cut down. Each time we have won. In the meantime I have gotten involved with several local community groups, our neighborhood has been united and we have all learned a great deal. I now look at our native Oaks and the surrounding landscape with new eyes. I have learned the value of an authentic landscape. Did you know that all those palm trees that have become symbolic of LA are non-native?
I bow to the mighty oak and all they continue to teach me. A portion of the proceeds from the purchase a 1/4 oz bottle of our Quercus perfume goes to the California Oak Foundation.

"I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues."
- Dr. Suess

Tree People

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Samhain ungent

Samhain, is one of the high holidays marking the end of summer. Another turn in the great wheel of the Earth, transitioning from the light to the dark. Indeed, some say it is a celebration of the dark, a time to turn inward. The actual date is October 31st, marking the Celtic New Year on November 1st. I will be part of a sacred circle of women celebrating Samhain in Topanga.
For the evening festivities I am creating a special Samhain unguent. The word unguent comes from the latin unguere, meaning to anoint. It is also known as ointment, balm, solid perfume or in this case an anointing balm.
Samhain celebrates the last harvest and the time of the season where life begins to slow down, as nature hibernates during the cold months. This evening marks a time when the veils between the world are thin, there is magical power in the air and it is said that the spirit world is near. This is where Halloween, also known as All Hallow's Eve or Old Hallowsmas, gets its name. The Celtics, as in Mexico, refer to it as The Day of the Dead. This is where the idea of communicating and honoring our dead ancestors originates. It is said that the realm of the Fey, fairies, are very active on this evening, which is why people in the past would dress in white or wore guises to fool the nature spirits.
The story of Arthur as he sails his ship Pridwen to the underworld is a good metaphor for this season. He returns from his journey with a cauldron of plenty.
What are your intentions for the season, what will you plant and give birth to in the Spring?

Iconography of Samhain includes:
The cycle from rebirth to death
Acorn and Oak
Fey, faery folk
Seaweed (for those who dwell near the sea)
Deities: Morrigan (the triple Goddess), The Dagda
The harvest
Pumpkin, sage, apple and turnip

Tarot suit of Pentacles
Direction: West
Colors Black, orange, white, silver and gold
Stone: Obsidian
Fruits: Apple & Pomegranate
Animals: Cats & Dragons

What iconography will you use?
Look for essences associated with rebirth and death, deepening psychic powers and the harvest in your part of the world,

My Samhain ungent will include the following in honor of the harvest:
Essences from roots
Hazelnut C02
Apple blossom concrete
Hay absolute
For the ancestors some sacred copal infusion as well as an infusion of acorns and Quercus lobata from my beloved oak grove. A magical chord for the fey realm, a drop, or dilution, of choya for the bonfires and something to increase psychic powers.

As I work I will hold the thought of my departed friend Jillian in my minds eye and in my heart. She will be one of the ancestors honored during Samhain celebrations.

"Commutatio" © Greg Spalenka

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Golden Compass: Trailer

Years back, on the recommendation of our English friend Jeremy, I picked up the book "The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman. It was one of a trilogy entitled "His Dark Materials". I have been reading books to my daughter Eve ever since she was a toddler. Thus, every night before bedtime, we would snuggle in my bed I would read aloud. We absolutely adored the first book and quickly ravished the second and third...as well as "Lyras Oxford". During this time, my beloved partner was in Texas working on a film. I mentioned to him how extra ordinary the books were and that he would be a perfect visual fit if the book was ever made into a film. Divine forces conspired and he found himself working on visual development for the Golden Compass right here in Los Angeles. We have been counting down the days for the release of the film. It looks like Philip Pullmans masterful story has been honored and interpreted well. What a relief! Fox really blew it with Eragon and The Dark is Rising. Kudos to Weitz and New Line for their great skill in translating a great novel to film media.
The perfume I created entitled Lyra was named after the heroine. Aurora and Amber also allude to the epic trilogy.
The Golden Compass Website

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Garden, part 2

Last Friday was the first day of the Native Pant Sale at the Theodore Payne Foundation. We are re-doing our landscape to incorporate as many indigenous plants as possible. Early last Friday my mom and I trekked out to Sun Valley to purchase natives. I arrived back in the Santa Monica Mountains with a treasure trove of new friends to plant into our clay soil.
The first weekend sale is for members only. I purchased quite a few Ceanothus, which will cover the majority of the front slope, intermingled with Yarrow, Manzanita and Sage and Island Alum under the Oaks. We will need to return again for more plants. Planning the garden has been like formulating a painting or perfume. All the elements of design must be employed; texture, repetition, contrast, scale and a unifying theme.
The Ceanothus consists mostly of 'Yankee Point' with a few 'Heart's Desire' and 'Centennial'. Eventually we will also plant more Oaks as well. I plan to experiment with all of these for the tinctures in my Californica series of perfumes. Some are already in Vera and Chaparral. The new perfume to this series, Rosa and Sierra, also contain local native tinctures. Rosa and Sierra will be available soon. Thank You to all of you who have sampled them and are patiently waiting for the quarter ounce liquid perfume. Californica samplers will be available as well.
The Native Plant Sale at the Foundation opens to non-members this Friday. I suggest getting there early with a list and plenty of time. Plastic for the interior of your car, gardening gloves, full water bottle and a notepad are also a great addition for the trek. If you need help, seek out Louise, she is very knowledgeable and friendly. While you are there sign up to be a member. Membership helps support this important non-profit. Members get a discount on plants and classes, as well as receiving the Poppy newsletter filled with native plant garden tips.
Why go native?
1) Aesthetic Value: A native garden is stunning and fits the authentic beauty of California.
2) Once established native plants require very little water!
3) Genetics, these native plants only exist in California, the genetic material thrives here. Why create a garden with plants indigenous to the east coast of Europe when we have a plethora of 6000 species of plants. Natives are considered "Pre-European", they evolved without human impact. By continuing to plant natives we avoid genetic contamination and cross pollinating.
A paradigm shift is required when we first begin to look at natives. The color and texture palette is quite different. Similar to the adjustment when we shift from synthetic to botanical perfume. We make a choice that positively impacts our health and the wellbeing of the land.

A really beauty filled native garden to visit is the one at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden located in the foothills, up Mission Canyon Road. Not to be missed is the Redwood Forest residing next to the
dam. SBBG offer several docent guided tours which I highly recommend.

When you become a member of the Theodore Payne Foundation you will be given a fantastic book, conveniently in both English and Spanish. Another fantastic book is California Native Plants for the Garden.
The Theodore Payne Foundation
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

This photo was taken in 2005 at the SBBG. The structure in the background was created by Patrick Dougherty.
Patrick Dougherty Installation

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The tree

"Beloved, gaze in thine own heart, The holy tree is blooming there." - W. B. Yeats

Artwork: Spring, acrylic on canvas, ©RoxanaVilla

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


We just received a little booklet in the mail from Art Center College of Design for a new show titled "In the Dermisphere" opening Friday, October 12, 2007 / 6-10pm. The exhibition focuses on the skin as an outer covering referred to as the dermisphere. The show will display works in a variety of mediums including drawing, photography, sculpture, paintings and old botanical prints. Artists explore the different aspects relating to humans perception and experience of our outer covering. The 5x7 inch mailer printed on a textured paper evoking the skin is a stunning piece of design onto itself. It immediately reminded me of the film "The Pillow Book" by Peter Greenaway. Let's here it for high concept!

"In the Dermisphere" at Art Center

The Pillow Book
Peter Greenaway