Thursday, January 31, 2008

Alchemy in the Casitas Pass

"You are an alchemist; make gold of that." - William Shakespeare

Alchemy is often associated with the art of botanical perfume due the transformation of physical matter through the process of distillation. Sandy Messori of Rivendell Aromatics and I have aligned our passion and skills to bring you a day of distillation, plant wisdom and scent making. We have chosen Feb 23rd for Incense Cedar and March 29th for White Sage. Both of these sacred aromatic plants are part of the California Chaparral Biome. In Alchemy transformation of raw matter into a divine form is achieved through extensive purification. The two plants scheduled for the opening of our series are held sacred by the Native People of America specifically utilized for purification. What a perfect symbol for the start of this new year.

Our day begins at 9am at Rivendell Aromatics with hands on preparation of the plant material to be distilled. (Feb 23rd: Incense Cedar, March 29th: White Sage) Once the Prima Materia has been prepared and put into the still we will study the plant from all perspectives including: historical, medicinal and perfumery.

Rivendell Aromatics resides among 3000 Hass Avocado Trees in the lovely Casitas Pass Valley, near Santa Barbara, California. A 50 gallon stainless steel distillation unit with a glass condenser is utilized to distill their own oils and hydrosols from organically grown plants. The farm is owned by the Messori family and operated by Roland and Sandy Messori. Sandy and Roland are graduates of Cal Poly University, California.

Sandy will be the main conductor of the day, as we harvest and prepare the "physical matter" to be transformed into the "quintessence". I will contribute my aromatherapeutic blending and botanical perfumery background to the experience as we learn and create from the plant matter harvested. Together Sandy and I will demonstrate different ways to use both the hydrosol and the essential oil produced from the distillation.

Each participant will take part in the alchemical transformation of the plant matter from solid mass to aromatic treasures as well as prepare at least one item to take home with them. This is a unique and special experience in our local community with a boutique distillation in a gorgeous, peaceful setting. A light, vegetarian lunch will be served. Our day will end at 4pm. Please wear suitable clothing and bring a notebook to write in.

The fee for the entire day, including materials is $140, half of which ($70) is due up front to reserve your seat. The balance is due before the day of the class. Due to the nature of the class, participation is limited, we encourage you to reserve your seat now. The deposit is non-refundable. We require the fill amount at time of registration if you choose to pay with a credit card. Please contact Sandy to reserve your seat and directions: Sandy Messori

Roxana Illuminated Perfume
Rivendell Aromatics

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Formerly known as Quercus

We decided to change the name
of the California Live Oak inspired Perfume.
Thank you to all the friends, colleagues and family who provided their input on the potential names. After pondering long and hard we chose the letter "Q" as the new name. It was a very difficult decision, but, in the end we liked the enigmatic reference to the botanical name, Quercus agrifolia. Greg has created a lovely animation on the Illuminated Perfume homepage.
Read the story of how this perfume was birthed here.

Images© Greg Spalenka and Roxana Villa

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Love Philtre

Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.
~ John Updike

Much needed rain is falling abundantly today as I filter some of my bark tinctures and prepare new ones. Besides the evaporation of bodies of water, like the ocean, rain also is composed of soil, plants and animals. When the water descends to the earth it contains a valuable chemical element, Sulfur.
Sulfur is considered essential to life and provides plant life with important amino acids. Sulfur was one of the two most important substances to Alchemists. These early chemists considered this element to be akin to the human soul and represented it with this glyph.
In many Illuminated works on Alchemy, Sulfur is represented by the image of the Sun.

The painting above left is titled "The Love Philtre" by William Waterhouse, 1914.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

An Illuminated Day

this past Thursday at the Getty was inspirational and rejuvenating. The Getty Center truly is one of great cultural attractions we have here in Los Angeles. Nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains, among groves of Coastal Live Oaks, expansive views, a fantastic collection of art, beautiful gardens AND free lectures.

One could arrive at opening time and leave at closing and still not experience everything offered within a single day. With my handy little Panasonic camera, a small notebook and container of water I made my way to the intended purpose of the visit. Sylvana Barrett was to demonstrate both Gilding and Painting in the Museum Studios. Currently I am enrolled in a two part class at the museum with Sylvana titled Miniature Painting. She is a fantastic teacher, presenting the information in a clear cut manner with lots of visual elements, as well as detailed handouts. The history and use of medieval painting techniques and pigments is fascinating. Although I am in the two day class, this demo went into some specifics not covered in the workshop. I find it's good to hear information a few times anyway, really sinks in that way. During the two hour long demonstrations, to a filled room, I jotted notes vigorously. There is something in the this process that has really struck a chord deep within. In art school I studied book arts and letterpress printing extensively, it was one of my passions. Later purchasing my own Vandercook flatbed letterpress in New York. I've also done quite a bit of gilding on my illustration work. The threads of book arts, illustration, botanicals and a love of historical techniques is evident in my life. Currently all these pieces are weaving themselves into an marvelous tapestry as they are put into place with Roxana Illuminated Perfume.

Unbeknowest to me in June 2007 there was a "Known World Heraldic and Scribal Symposium" in which Sylvana taught a two class on Renaissance Illumination in the Style of Jean Bourdechon. Darn, I missed that one, and it was here locally! Perhaps there will be another.
I have also discovered that there is a Botanical Aritsts Guild with a chapter here in southern California. As an artist working in both the arena of visual art and botanical perfume this sounds worth exploring further.

The Getty Center
Sylvana Barrett
Known World Heraldic and Scribal Symposium
Botanical Artists Guild
A Blog for the Botanical Artists Guild

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Beauty and Bread

'Everyone needs beauty as well as bread.' ~ John Muir

I am back to the Getty today and must say very excited to be going. I've started the day with a chocolate croissant and e-mailing with some divine ladies in my realm. Friendship, chocolate, beauty...what could be more grand?
The lovely pain au chocolat is from a local organic bakery called The Baker. It is everything one would want on a chill infused windy morning. Greg would term them "snuggly" as well as "a non food item". I learned this morning that these chocolate filled wonders were created by the Viennese not the French. The proper name for them is actually a Viennoiserie. According to Wikipedia they are also referred to as chocolatines in South-West France and Quebec. The term croissant is really not appropriate since they are not crescent shaped like the typical croissant. My most vivid memories of these delicious pastries was when I was about thirteen years old at a Club Med in Tahiti. Every morning, during that vacation, I would walk over to the palm covered eating area for my morning chocolate croissant before heading out to water ski. I was a rather independent, adventurous child and really enjoyed that particular trip.
Back to reality, the temperature has dropped again here in Lala land. Since Friday, we'd been having really beauty filled, warm days...typically Californian. Somehow I'd forgotten that we were still in winter. However, today that cold snap is back in the air and I've returned to the multiple layers of silk and wool. Ah, a trip to Tahiti would be most welcome right about now. Oh well, the Getty and the Oak tree filled Santa Monica Mountains will do just fine.

Petit Pain au Chocolat Recipe
Club Med
The JP Getty Museum

Image of Viennoisserie above is by Luc Viatour,, via Wikipedia.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

One Sheet of Paper

More imagery from the contest at the Hirshhorn Museum,
in which the entries had to be created using only one sheet of paper.

Hirshhorn Museum

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Yo ho, yo ho, it's an artists life for me!

"There's no retirement for an artist, it's your way of living so there's no end to it." ~ Henry Moore

The studio has been so busy lately, with visual and aromatic art projects, that it has become more of a challenge to write on the blog. The good news is that soon you will all be witness to the fruits of those labors!

Today I am off to the Getty for a two part class titled "Miniature Painting" taught by Sylvana Barrett. Ever since first seeing the Illuminated Choir Book show and hearing her speak I've been yearning to study with Sylvana. I am captivated by Illuminated manuscripts, evident in the painting H2 Illuminated: Heaven and Hell, pictured above. After seeing the show at the Getty back in 2002 I realized that the letter H has a space for a painting above and below. Perfect for the Heaven and Hell illustrations I was working on.

The Hirshhorn Museum had a contest in which the entries had to be created using only one sheet of paper. These pieces are quite magnificent.

The JP Getty Museum of Art
Sylvana Barrett
Illuminated Choir Books Exhibit
Hirshhorn Museum

Roxana Illuminated Perfume

Friday, January 11, 2008

With Gratitude

"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."
~ Albert Schweitzer

I am in a deep state of gratitude today for all the luminous beings in my life. Thank You so much for your presence and illuminations!

The image above was created using multiple engravings. Sphere©RoxanaVilla

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.” ~ Anais Nin

Eve and I are voracious in our appetite for good stories. Sunday evening we decided to check out the new Arclight Movie Theater and see the film Atonement. Our hunger was fulfilled with multiple courses of love, wit, beauty and tragedy.

As I put on sheaths of silk and woolens this morning with an intention of staying warm while blending, I contemplated the importance of layering. Layering in all aspects of life adds complexity and thus creates interest. This is evident in the mastery of the film Atonement as well as the storytelling of the TV series LOST.

When creating botanical perfume we create layers of similar notes, called chords or accords, and then blend those for the final orchestration of the perfume opera. I've created several chords to work with including variations of wood, floral, rose, citrus, leather, spice, green, amber, musk, jasmine, carnation and velvet. Some of these are simple perfumes, soliflores in their own right.

Multiple chords in perfume, are like those wonderful layers in great storytelling, seamlessly blended to create a synergy greater than the sum of its parts.

See how Greg creates his lovely illuminations, including Lotus Fairy,
clicking on the Bouquet button here, at right:

Cheers to the Bards!

Atonement, the movie

Ian McEuwen

Image above: One of the many layers used to create the final image Lotus Fairy, by Greg Spalenka. The Bouquet button is an image he created for his website.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Bee Leaf System

The mysterious disappearance of the honey bee is a major concern, especially to those who appreciate fruits and vegetables. A documentary is currently in production that is focusing on the predicament of the domesticated honey bee. View the trailer here: The Vanishing Bees
The filmakers are seeking contributions in order to finish the documentary, click on DONATE on their website to facilitate this work.

We choose the orchid bee as the logo for our company because of their affinity with scent. Not only would our food supply be threatened if the honey bee vanishes, but so would numerous plants that contribute their vitality for essential oil production. If our current way of life is what endangers our existence then a new belief system and approach is crucial. Purchasing and supporting organic and biodynamic food is a great place to begin the journey. Becoming more conscious of how each of our actions impacts the planet and her sentient beings is where the path continues.

Organic Consumers
Bee Keeping
The Pfeiffer Center

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Persistence of Memory

A large group compromised of friends and family ventured to LACMA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, yesterday. We went specifically to see the Dali exhibit. Salvador Dali is a rather controversial artist, who was prolific and visionary. He was also one of those rare breeds who balanced the art of creativity with income, unlike Mozart or Van Gogh who died in poverty.
The exhibit at LACMA was focused on the artist's work in film and painting, thus most of the great paintings were not included. However, there is a wealth of his work in film, much of which I was unfamiliar with. I've always associated Dali as a painter, not a film maker.
Dali was master draftman, extremely skilled with portraying an alternate realism, surrealism. During art school we viewed and discussed "Un Chein Andaloo" several times. It is considered a classic in both art and film circles. In the spirit of surrealism the film challenges logical thought. Other films included in the exhibit were Spellbound, directed by Hitchcock, and the Disney animated film Destino.
Dali was a notorious character. This segment from "What's My Line" illustrates him perfectly.

Ernst Fuchs, the founding artist of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism, was friends with Dali. Below is an interesting interview with Ernst on his relationship with Dali. The progression of the arts is so fascinating. The inspiration and reinterpretation continues on from one generation to another.

Dali at LACMA
Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali
Fuchs on Dali
Ernst Fuchs
Old Masters, New Visions Workshop

Image above is one of the most famous works by Dali, "The Persistence of Memory", © Salvador Dali