Touch painting with Tafoni.

Tafoni Touch

In Contemplation, Creative By Nature Art Blog, Earth by Lisa Lipsett

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Tafoni Touch: The simple beauty of making art with texture

Painting with tafoni sandstone formations on Newcastle Island, BC

Painting with tafoni sandstone formations on Newcastle Island, BC

If the air is jam-full of sounds which we tune in with, why should it not also be full of feels and smells and things seen through the spirit, drawing particles from us to them and them to us like magnets? Emily Carr

   We live in a very tactile world and our sense of touch serves in multiple rich and important ways throughout our lives. Knowing that our creative nature is tied so closely to our sense of touch can increase our ease and joy of art making. It is a gift to touch in then draw or paint.

   As newborns we come prewired with powerful senses that tune us for relationship with self, others and the world. “The eyes, the skin, the tongue, ear and nostrils – all are gates where our body receives the nourishment of otherness,” says eco-philosopher Dave Abram. In the Creative by Nature Art Method we begin with the sense of touch because I am so excited for others to experience how simple yet freeing it is to touch the living world and our deepest selves as we draw and paint. It is like going back to the beginning and experiencing the world anew. Maybe it’s because of my own unique sensory history. For the first 3 years of my life I lived in a mostly blurry world of colour, light and shadow because of pretty severe far-sightedness. Maybe that’s where my fascination and trust of touch originates. As an adult when I craved a creative practice in my life I turned again to my sense of touch as a way into joyful spontaneity.

   The more we learn about touch, the more we realize just how central it is in all aspects of our lives—cognitive, emotional, developmental, behavioral—from womb into old age. It’s no surprise that a single touch can affect us in multiple, powerful, ways.   

   Touch is the first sense to develop and it remains perhaps the most emotionally central throughout our lives. More of our bodies are devoted to the sense of touch than any other sense.

   In fact it develops while we are still in the womb. As an 8-week-old fetus we already pull away from an object that touches our face; by 14 weeks, we can feel with most of our body. Once born we have an awareness not only of human touch, but of the touch of the breeze on our skin, variations in temperature and texture.

   Newborns not only have a well-developed sense of touch, reciprocal touch relationships are vital to their survival.

 To touch can be to give life.- Michelangelo

   The need for touch transcends age. From infant massage to the role of massage in elder care, the Touch Research Institute has conducted over 100 studies on the positive effects of massage therapy. Among the significant research findings are enhanced growth (e.g. in preterm infants), diminished pain (e.g. fibromyalgia), decreased autoimmune problems (e.g., increased pulmonary function in asthma and decreased glucose levels in diabetes), enhanced immune function (e.g., increased natural killer cells in HIV and cancer), and enhanced alertness and performance (e.g., EEG pattern of alertness and better performance on math computations). Many of these effects appear to be mediated by decreased stress hormones.

   Touch is a universal connector and is also profoundly nourishing when it is shared human with nature. Greater Good Science Center founder Dacher Keltner explains that one touch of nature makes the whole world kin and so compassion is literally at our fingertips.

   Some believe that the natural world is also just waiting to be touched. If we are open to it, we are touched in return with awe, reverence and creative inspiration.

Our hands imbibe like roots so I place them on what is beautiful in this world. -St Francis of Asissi

   Beauty in this instance becomes a verb born out of the act of connection.

   So exploring touch offers fresh ways of knowing and connecting with self and other. Creating with touch is simple, freeing and very powerful. In her Touch Drawing practice Deborah Koff-Chapin invites us to touch into ourselves and make marks with our fingertips on the page. Our hands become an expressive conduit for our heart’s expression.  As creative mindfulness teacher Wendy Ann Greenhalgh states “we move from thinking mind to being mind.”

   It makes no difference whether we touch-in to ourselves, others or the natural world while creating. We learn that we can touch-in anywhere at anytime. We also divert around the fear of creating by simply closing our eyes and touching-in as we draw and paint which frees us to be spontaneous, absorbed and joyful. We nourish a sense of belonging.

Tafoni Touch- Art with textured stone

 The friendship between my hand and this stone enacts an ancient and irrefutable eros, the kindredness of matter with itself.” ― David Abram, Becoming Animal

    Tafoni lacework on Newcastle Island, BC.


Tafoni lacework on Newcastle Island, BC.

Tafoni lacework on Newcastle Island, BC.

   I feel touched by the sandstone cathedrals of our Salish sea. I first became aware of Tafoni when I moved to Salt Spring Island BC 10 years ago.

   The soft rounded cave-like spaces welcomed a warm sit, embraced a timeless caring heart and reminded me of ancient European cathedrals. They are places where I can take pause from daily concerns to sit quietly and see into a layer beyond the surface. I feel held in warm walls and textures.


Florentine cathedral ceiling

   Tafoni (singular: tafone) are small cave-like features found in granular rock such as sandstone, granite, and sandy-limestone with rounded entrances and smooth concave walls, often connected, adjacent, and/or networked. They often occur in groups that can riddle a hillside, cliff, or other rock formation. Tafoni have also been called fretting, stonelace, stone lattice, honeycomb weathering, and alveolar weathering. Cristina Viviani in her book dedicated to all things Tafoni calls them nature’s mysterious sculptural forms.

   They can be found in all climate types, but are most abundant in intertidal areas and semi-arid and arid deserts. There is lots of competing theories about how they form including salt weathering, differential cementation, structural variation in permeability, wetting-drying, and freezing-thawing cycles, variability in lithology, case hardening and core softening, and/or micro-climate changes and variation (i.e. moisture availability). The oldest preserved painting of Tafoni may well be on a wall in a 3700 year old prehistoric Minoan home in Akrotiri (Santorini Greece), called Spring Fresco or Lilies Fresco which displays a rocky landscape with different stages of Tafoni development.

   For me Tafoni and weathered rocks can be reminders of the resilience and tranquility residing deep within, particularly during times of uncertainty and change. We indeed live in very uncertain and changing times so finding timeless constancy can very soothing.

Touch Art Encounters with Self and Stone

Part 1-Touch art encounter with your hands

Close your eyes and slowly trace the contours and textures of one hand while you simultaneously draw with the other. Explore with fingertips and thumbs all around the surfaces of this hand as you draw. Then switch your hands.

Try this encounter with a partner. Each explore the other’s hands as you draw. Close by taking a moment to write down anything you noticed or wonder about. Express gratitude for your wom\n

Drawing with the textures of your hand

Drawing with the textures of your hand

derful hands.

Part 2- Touch art encounter with stone
Drawing with tafoni

Drawing with tafoni contours and textures

Wander in your yard, neighbourhood or an area you enjoy and open to a rock that calls your attention. Your wandering could be with your eyes closed so it becomes more about opening to textures in your immediate surroundings. When you find a stone texture you enjoy set yourself up to draw with one hand as the other hand simultaneously explores the textured surfaces. Then switch hands. Painting with one hand while the other explores can extend this art encounter. Close by taking a moment to write down anything you noticed or wonder about.

A selection of resources I touched upon:

The Power of Touch- Maria Konnikova New Yorker March 4, 2015

Hands On Research: The Science of Touch- Dacher Keltner, September 29, 2010

Mindfulness and the art of drawing: A creative path to awareness- Wendy Ann Greenhalgh

Tafoni: Nature’s mysterious sculptural formations- Cristina Viviani 18Karat Books, 2008.

Get inspired with more interesting art encounters. Follow this blog on the right.

Click here for more info about the next Creative by Nature Art course.


Lisa LipsettTafoni Touch