She spies a black stone pockmarked with round holes and sets it on top of the stack she's already assembled on a nearby boulder. Picking up another stone -- this one elongated and golden brown -- she rotates the rocks carefully, feeling for the perfect position that will allow them to balance effortlessly.
Clarke, 61, is one of 14 balance artists from seven countries invited to participate in this year's Balanced Art World International Festival in
"To be standing in that river and balancing rocks with these guys, that's my definition of a fabulous time," said the artist, one of five Americans asked to participate in the festival. (She's the only one from west of the
A semi-retired barber and photographer who has called
"To have somebody that accomplished that I can learn from is fabulous," said Clarke, who belongs to several Facebook groups for balance art enthusiasts. "It definitely has evolved my skill."
Now she rarely goes a day without stacking stones. She's crafted balances during rock-hunting expeditions to the Mohave Desert, on vacations in
Favorite local spots include Morro Rock,
"Sometimes I'm just cruising along ... I look over and there happen to be some rocks and a beautiful background," said Clarke, who will usually stop and spend 15 to 20 minutes balancing.
She starts out by searching for stones of the appropriate weight, size and shape. In particular, she looks for heart-shaped rocks to place on top of each piece as a personal signature.
"You can look around and your mind is going, 'That won't work, that won't work, but this one will,'" Clarke explained.
Next comes assembly -- carefully positioning each stone to find that precarious "setting point."
"You keep very minutely maneuvering the top one until it kind of clicks," the
There's no glue involved, just gravity. "It's this balance line that goes right through the middle of the rocks," she said.
Most of Clarke's creations -- which typically stand 2 1/2 to 5 feet tall -- stay upright for months.
But even the sturdiest-looking sculpture can be toppled by wind, wild animals or earthquakes. In fact, whenever Clarke finds one of the 70 or so balances at her
The artist always snaps photos of her creations, she said, in order "to share whatever I'm experiencing as beautiful with others."
For Clarke, balance art is a form of meditation as much as a means of creative expression.
"Subconsciously, maybe I haven't fully recognized that my life is feeling out of balance," she said, until she finds herself outside looking for rocks. "Then I recognize that I was just needing some quiet and some piece and some present-moment awareness."
When she's stacking stones, she said, "I'm not worrying about the past. I'm not fretting about the future. I'm just there."
(c)2014 The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)
Visit The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) at www.sanluisobispo.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services