Yesterday, I had the great pleasure to attend an artful workshop at The Art Academy of Cincinnati by taxidermy artisan Jeremy Johnson and his team at Meddling With Nature. This workshop was geared toward professional medical illustrators but as a member of the broader illustration community here in town, I was able to take part just for fun, to photograph, sketch a bit and learn about a different form of sculpture. When I attended art school, sculpture was where my heart was at the time. Add to that a deep love of nature and the out-of-doors and this class was something I looked forward to for weeks!
We started the morning by watching the above video, to get a sense of the scope of the work these folks do. This is not just taxidermy for the local hunter looking to mount the head of a recently obtained backwoods buck. We talked about how Jeremy and his team come to obtain their specimens and life and death in general. One thing I love about people who operate at the crossroads of art and nature is that there is little ‘front porch talk’. They go straight for the real. Meddling With Nature presents around town to schools and community groups and often must contend with overcoming the ‘ew’ factor of the average audience. But this group, being scientists and artists, was full of wonder and appreciation for the specimens shared and the activities presented to us.
First up was entomological preparation. We were given a lovely pamphlet to peruse…
But in the end, it’s just best to dive into the activity hands-on. And so we did.
We were tasked with taking these insect specimens, rehydrated a bit in their shriveled state, and reigniting a sense of life in them by posing them for eventual display.
The pins act as a sort of scaffolding to the structure of the insects without pinning them through like you might see in other displays. It was tedious and tiny hand work which I soon lost myself in. My first specimen was a goliathus beetle from Africa.
I had to carefully manipulate the joints of legs and wings to open him up and show off his gorgeous wings which reminded me a bit of a bat wing.
There were many bugs available to mount. And even a few to eat. Yes. Eat. I tried a cheddar flavored meal worm. Just one. And that was enough.
I moved on to opening up my second insect specimen…. A Thorny Devil. At first glance these guys look like little green tacos.
But eventually, the wings can be opened up, revealing under-wings the likes of which the fairy folk might encounter in their world. I could just imagine a wee saddle placed just so to avoid the thorns. (Thorns being a handy defense for airborne battles…)
While we manipulated our insects and pinned them into place, the lecture moved on to bigger beasts. Jeremy shared with us a bit of what he might do with a bit of road kill in order to preserve and prepare it for taxidermy or to harvest the bones for an articulated skeletal specimen.
This was all very fascinating. The medical illustrators were asking very detailed and smart sounding questions with words I do not know. I observed, worked on my bugs, and did some sketching.
We learned about how to properly prepare bones for keeping and displaying so that they might last a good long while. It’s an exacting list of steps requiring great patience and a bit of a strong stomach for some of the larger things one might want to keep. But the patience is worth it.Many of these processes are what the museums and zoos use to preserve things for the public to handle and gawk at. I have always liked the Victorian’s notion of keeping a bit of a museum of curiosities in one’s own home. And now I have a bit more knowledge and a few skills to continue my own collection.Jeremy et al have the opportunity to work with a variety of local and more obscure specimens. Below is a cast of the palate of a tiger who passed away from diabetic complications.I have always been in awe of the patterns to be found in the natural world. And there are some things which are objects of artful beauty without much ‘preparation’.This was a truly informative and thought provoking workshop. A most inspiring portion of the presentation was a series of photos about dissection. You can see them here. As much as I love the natural sciences nowadays, I was never much of a student back in school and so there is much I do not know. For example, that the color of a healthy gall bladder is a most elegant and gorgeous green color. The photos on the Meddling With Nature dissection page call to me to make large scale juicy paintings. I hope to get to this one day…
But for now, my sketch book calls. I am weeks away from leaving for New Mexico to teach again and so must continue to work in my own little books to practice. There is much in the garden to sketch. (and, frankly, many weeds to pull and plants to divide.) I will do what I can amidst the day to day. It was wonderful to sit back and be a student for half a day. Many thanks to Jeremy Johnson and the other artists from Meddling With Nature. What a treat!!
Some while back, I received a gift in the form of a little book on a necklace from a dear friend who knows I love the allure of a blank book. Knowing this book would be near to my heart for years to come, I opted to fill it with some of my favorite quotes and a few doodles as well. The result is this tiny book of truths. I find it to be even more fetching now, filled with words and images I have chosen. This is the case with all blank books – journals, sketchbooks and the like. They really come alive when we put ourselves into them. I suggest we fill all of those old blank books we might have lying around with quotes and drawings, musings and the day to day magic that makes us individuals. When you do so, do check back and share what you’ve made. Every person’s journal, no matter how big or small is a one of a kind. Just like you!
We didn’t exactly choose a day most suited for it, but yesterday our little family opted for a little journey south to horse country. Southwestern Ohio is a liminal place, butting up against Indiana and Kentucky both, with deep seeded relationships to both. I have a soft spot for Kentucky as it is where most of the known history of my kin comes from and I spent a lot of time there as a kid, romping amidst the hills and hollers.
And so, on a very wet day we set forth to Keeneland to enjoy a day at the races. As we traveled, the landscape became greener and greener, as Lexington is just that much ahead of us in the race toward spring time blooming. The wild redbud and dogwood trees rushed past us. The mists hung low over the hills too. As the rain pelted our windshield, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into!
Fairly soon we had arrived at this amazing horse racing facility and the weather softened to drizzle. I was still glad I had worn my wellies.
We settled in and had a look around. The place was all abuzz with horses, along with their owners, trainers and handlers readying for the next race.
So much at stake for those involved. But the horses didn’t seem to care about stakes. They just wanted to run. I asked our friends there, who know horses and the racing of them, whether the horses seem to understand the idea of racing. And the answer was, if you watch these animals in the fields, outside of all the pageantry of the racing world, they spend their days in the fields together running and chasing each other. They are highly intelligent and competitive. Adding people to the mix is just our human layer of understanding on their very real sense of day to day animal play.
Before each race, the horses are walked around so betters can get a look at them and the horses can warm up a bit. Then they head into another area where they are paired with their jockeys.
There are many escorts to keep everything in order and happening on time. On this day, there were 8 races total! One flowed quickly into the next.
Of course there is much speculation as to which horse, piloted by which jockey, will be able to win each race. And each race is different. Some are run on grass for over a mile. Other races are on the dirt track and may be a bit shorter. Each horse and each jockey may shine in different situations. One farrier we met who hails from Ireland, said on this green, wet day, his bets would have to be on the Irish jockeys who felt right at home in these conditions.
But everyone has their system. We had a lot to learn about it all.
Eventually though, you just have to pony up and set your money down on something. And so we did.
The races all seemed to flow together in my mind. I wasn’t betting or looking at the numbers. It was simply all so much just to take in! But as the day went on, and the races continued, everyone in our group had a winning bet or two to show for their efforts.
One does not go to the races and simply sit down in a seat to watch. It is a very active thing. There is a lot of back and forth between the viewing of the horses coming up and those currently racing and of course the betting. There is occasionally a cocktail too. Although the races are quickly over, there is still some time amongst the rush of things to explore a bit. I was curious about the tunnel which the jockeys take their horses through to enter the official race track and asked if I could take a picture of it between races.
The answer was not only yes to the tunnel picture (photo credit to my Hub, Tony), but a kind invitation to walk down through the tunnel to have a peek at the track as the horses and jockeys see it on race day. This sweet Kentucky gentleman escorted me down to meet his ‘hard-working cohorts’ hanging out in the winner’s circle.
These guys clearly have a great time at their job at Keeneland and I was thrilled to meet them and get a sense of the scope of the place.
Just like that, this day of racing was over. We are fortunate that our horse loving friends, Dan and Bev of Liam’s Fancy, are also musicians so we joined them at their place for a cookout and some tunes.
What a day! We were eventually chased inside by thunderstorms rolling in sideways for a few more tunes before we had to make the journey home. Our cup filled with the imagery, passion and pageantry of high-end horse racing. It all felt a world away, which I think is the case when we allow ourselves to go deep enough into something with a rich history. This was only my second time to Keeneland, but I want to go back again and learn more, perhaps on a dry weekday when I can sketch it all in my sketchbook. Many thanks to Dan and Bev who not only helped us navigate the statistics catalog at the races, but who opened their home for tunes and hot dogs of all kinds afterward.
Finally, after some flirtatious hints in previous weeks, the goddess of Spring has bestowed upon us warm breezes in which to bask, a carpet of greening with which to readjust our vision of the out-of-doors, and the fleeting gift of spring-blooming flowers, strung up like so many lines of fairy lights amongst the trees and tucked into the base of the forest itself.
I sit here today at this writing machine, feeling an urge to catch you all up on things ’round here with a juicy blog post. So if you have a little while to spare, brew a cup of tea, tuck yourself into the coziest chair and I shall fill you in.
In spite of the coming of Spring in our river valley, we extended our journey into Winterland for a number of days as we headed northward to the great city of Montreal…
Our friends in the North were waging their own battle with the tail end of winter and we were graced with brisk but beautiful days to tour the city, as well as a rather dramatic snowfall one morning.
Why Montreal, you may wonder? Well, our youngest, Madeleine, was part of a team competing in the World Championships of Irish Dance being held in this fair city. This was to be our last trek to a ‘major’ and so we opted to make a real trip of it and spend a few days in what I believe to be one of the most charming cities in North America.
Around every corner, there were little bits of Other World. It truly has a feeling of a city much older than the rest of civilization available on this side of the pond.
As a woodsy girl, I am not one to bask in cities in general. But the Spirits of Montreal are present if one simply seeks to view them.
I managed to find the local Irish music session there on our first night and was welcomed by a charming, talented bunch of musicians who not only play Irish tunes, but also tunes from their area in the Quebecois and Cape Breton styles. It was a highlight of the trip for me personally and set the tone for the rest of our time there.
While M and her friends practiced, shopped and explored the city in their own way, we met up with far flung northern friends we seldom see. We walked and ate and visited, not really caring what we did to occupy ourselves beyond the simple bliss of merely being together.
Though to be honest, I just wanted to stare at Baby Alice’s sweet toes. And so I did a bit. Amazing to think that our little dancer, about to graduate into the Big Real World, once had toes as tiny and juicy as these.
Soon, touring and visiting were over. The competition was at hand and the McGing Pirates danced a perfect rendition of their well-practiced routine. In fact, all 9 teams competing danced a perfect rendition of their clearly well-practiced routines. When the dust settled, our girls had placed a respectable 4th in the world, good enough to medal. They were thrilled! It was a beautiful note upon which to end Maddie’s dance career. She will likely never truly stop dancing when she hears a proper tune, but this season of competitions and stage-worthy costuming is over. We couldn’t be more proud of her.
And I, for one, was ready to leave the built environment of the city, as nice as our trip had been…
“…most of us get used to living a hectic life that even the present moment, with its vast spiritual resonance, is unavailable to us. This is less true of the solitary, quiet workers whose company I have treasured; they seem to be living in a different psychic space from other people on the evening news. I do not mean farmers alone, but my grandfather in his carpentry shop, or Robin, when he comes home from a day of tuning pianos (which is how he makes his living). Such people may not know that their daily experience – contemplatively charged as it is – is different from other people’s. When something, like a trip to the mall, brings the disjunction to their awareness, they may fault themselves for being ‘out of it’. A day in the city looking for a couple of shirts can fry the brain of a normal country person.” ~from The Barn at the End of the World, by Mary Rose O’Reilley
….ready to come back to my blissfully quiet and mostly contemplative life at home. We catapulted across miles and seasons, once again coming upon the greening of more southerly climes.
This spring time is filled with many special occasions for us as a family, as we hold space for and make witness of the many endings-to-beginnings sort of happenings for Madeleine. One of these events was the Senior Prom. The kids looked stunning in their fineries, perched on the cusp of adulthood. It is such a blessing to behold all of this promise. Knowing my own young-adult children as well as their friends, I have a great hope for Times to Come as they venture into the world to make their own way of things.
With ‘World’s’ and ‘Prom’ successfully behind us, we took advantage of the beautiful weather to head outside. One lovely place to spend the day outdoors locally here is the Cincinnati Nature Center where not only is Spring on grand display all along the woodland trails, but there was music to listen to one day over the weekend. We sketched and enjoyed the breezes in the outdoor pavilion space as we listened….
The songs were mostly in French, providing an outside-of-time-and-space feel to things, which is precisely where I like to be, generally speaking. After the show, we hiked for awhile, pleased to see so many signs of life here, there and everywhere.
We came across tadpoles, newts and turtles in the reservoir ponds on the property of the nature center and of course stopped to observe them and enjoy.
“Is it possible to grow a worthy cosmology by attending closely to our encounters with other creatures, and with the elemental textures and contours of our locale? We are by now so accustomed to the cult of expertise that the very notion of honoring and paying heed to our directly felt experience of things – of insects and wooden floors, of broken-down cars and bird-pecked apples and the scents rising from the soil – seems odd and somewhat misguided as a way to find out what’s worth knowing.” ~from Becoming Animal by David Abram
The Cincinnati Nature Center is a treasure in this metropolis. Where else can even a trip in to the loo turn up so much to look at??
Back here at home, we have had to have a number of dead trees removed from our property. This changes the look and feel of things quite a bit. Despite the promise of perhaps enough sun for a small vegetable patch at long last, I mourn the downing of these beings who have brought such shade and shelter to this place for so many years. The majority of these trees are Ash trees and victims of the emerald ash borer, a non-native and clearly invasive beetle wreaking havoc on the trees here.
Yesterday evening my hub and I donned our wellies and walked the creek out front to collect downed limbs in order to keep them from building up and causing water to back up and flood when the storms come. As we did so, I was hit with a supremely nostalgic smell from my childhood. David Abram says it best…
“…there’s a new texture to the air, a moistness: water suspended in the medium, unseen, though you can feel its presence as the air washes against your face in waves. And riding those waves, vaguely enticing at first, then too pleasureful to resist: smells! Dark, stygian smells gliding over the rippled glass of the lake to mingle with the aromatic dank of the soil underfoot and the high-pitched scent of the green needles… the darkly laughing scent of cool water lapping up against the shore (infused with the chemistry of tadpoles and trout and the tannin of drowned leaves), and a host of other whiffs sometimes merged and sometimes distinct, all sparkling like wine in some part of your brain that had earlier been rocked to sleep by the soporific dazzle of sunbeams, but has now been startled into attentive life by this more full-blooded magic, as though your mammalian intelligence has abruptly dropped anchor and suddenly found itself really here, bodily afoot in these damp woods.” ~from Becoming Animal by David Abram
As a kid I spent countless hours barefoot, walking the local creeks, turning over stones to look for ‘crawdads’. The smell of being down in our own little creek for a bit last night brought back those timeless hours spent exploring. I decided to see if there was anything to spy just yet under the stones in our little waterway.
“This land is in my bones. Land under Wave.” ~from Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Success! I found one and I am sure there were others. I shall visit them when the sun returns, as today we are graced with the cooler side of Spring. Such a temperamental lady, our spring. Yet I am glad she seems here to stay for now.
Spring being firmly footed must mean that summer is on her heals. I am beginning to feel the pull toward a summer spent mostly on the road….
My annual trek to teach in Taos is less than two months away, with workshop participants arriving exactly two months from today. Like some sort of nesting bird, I am busily collecting supplies and ideas to bring to the workshop. Just the other day I hand printed some little canvas bags into which will go some basic necessities. I didn’t need to print anything on the swag-bags, but I really wanted to. So I did.
That rather sums up my state-of-mind of late. I’m following my nose as much as possible. Sure there’s loads that needs to be accomplished. And I manage to get to most of it. But sometimes it’s fun to climb aboard that ‘cross-town bus’ and see just where it takes me. It is there that ideas spring up out of the newly tilled soil of the soul. I hope to share with you soon where some of these ideas are taking me. They are shaping my approach to my kid-books projects. And that is a good thing. These projects will shift their shape over time, I am certain. I have already received my first official ‘rejection’ letter from a company to which I submitted some of my work. Along with the small smidge of sadness that my ego wanted to strap to its back came a much brighter sense of really doing this. I am in the game. Doing what needs to be done, a bit each week, moving forward. Someday, with some persistence and enough caring and constructive critique to keep the work improving, it will be ‘good enough’ to be birthed into the world as books with stories in them that began in my mind’s eye and in the heart of my creative soul. This all feels really, really good. As does spring.
And so, we come to the end of this rather lengthy tome of a post. I don’t post often, but when I do….
What’s happening in your world? I’d love to know. Blessings on your new season, wherever it may find you.
It is the end of March, finally. After a rough February, March did treat us with a few fine days and a serious snow melt, and for that all are grateful. But we have also seen subfreezing temperatures in recent days which took this Ohio River Valley a bit by surprise. One expects these tricks of the weather gods in New England, but not here. Yet the garden knows that even with occasional cold temperatures, it is time to unfurl and find the sun.
Today’s softened breezes feel like a gift. The fam and I are off to Montreal, Canada for our final Irish Dancing competition (which just happens to be the World Championships. I say why not go out in style yes?). While there is still much packing to do, I simply had to go outside and sketch for a while.
Nothing is better than sitting in front of real plants, growing outside in true garden soil, surrounded by happy animals (in this case dogs and chickens) while I sketch and paint. I am rusty and need more practice, but that is always the case this time of year. And I am glad for the opportunity for a little quiet before the storm of our last Irish Dancing ‘Majors’ competition. Hoping to get a little sketching done while in beautiful Montreal, but I have learned that these events have their own timeline and expectations of all of us. We shall see.
For now, the peonies and I have had our time together, and upon our return, I shall tidy up their beds to make more space for them to burst forth.
Happy spring everyone! And blessings and fertility on your Easter celebrations as well.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and we all know the level of crazy this can mean about town, and frankly, the whole world. I was up before dawn to accompany my young dancer to a ‘Kegs and Eggs’ event at one local Irish establishment where she and some fellow McGing Irish Dancers stomped their steps in front of a packed house as well as the local news crew. Then it was off to the school day for her and a couple hours in the studio for me. She heads back out to dance the bar circuit later today and I will join my musical friends for a couple of gigs ourselves. It’s High Holy Season for Irish musicians. And we love it!
Before I head out and get lost in the tunes and the mayhem, I figured I would engage in a little paint play, exploring the many facets of the lovely color of the season.
It’s a greening time of year, so the green theme is appropriate I suppose. Traditionally though, I have heard that St. Patrick actually wore the color blue…..
I am grateful for this day, the one day when Irish music is sought after by the unwashed masses, and we get to play, play, play the day away. It’s really a gift. If you are local, a few of us are playing at the Brazenhead Pub in Mason, Ohio between 4-5.
After that gig, we will meet up with a few others at a favorite venue of ours, The B-List bar in Bellevue, Ky.
Do stop in and give us a wave hello as we do our thing. This crazy thing called Irish music. Here’s a taste:
It’s a rich and full existence I inhabit. Here on this long-running and still lowly little blog of mine, I often highlight the adventures of my home life via kids, dogs, and tales of travel to other lands. More often, I share what’s what in the realm of art-work and life imagined by my mind’s eye. Only occasionally do I make mention of The Day Job, my part time employment at Carroll Concertinas where I have the gift of being a small part of a team of talented folks who craft gorgeous musical instruments.
Recently, a friend of one of my co-workers came for a visit to the shop to document some of our process for Soapbox Media . He has created a beautiful video that gives a small peek into the world of wonder in which we have the great honor to work. It is said that artists who’s work comes along in feast-or-famine style must attempt to maintain some sort of Day Job for the leaner times. In our world, where clock, calendar and contract rule the day, this is a difficult task. I am incredibly fortunate to set my own schedule to do the work I need to do, in the studio, for my travel workshops and at the concertina shop. I am also even more fortunate to work with fellow artisans and musicians who love what they do as much, if not more so, than I do.
So here is a peek into my ‘Other’ work; work I love as much as the artwork and teaching I do. Do you work as a creative? I’d love to know what other wonderful ‘day jobs’ are out there that enable us to cobble this creative life together in a world that often seems hardwired in the linear.
the music in the video is by fabulous concertina player edel fox.
I made an offhand quip yesterday on one of my photographs that here in the midwest, we are truly in the world of ’50 Shades of Gray’ during the winter. And though I have not read the book or seen the movie so many are discussing of late, the idea of all those varying shades of the color ‘gray’ or ‘grey’ (spelling depending upon where you live) is really one worth thinking about a little more. And maybe worth fiddling with when one opens one’s paint box this time of year.
And so I braved the brisk temps and headed outside to take some snapshots. And to think about this oh-so-gray world in which I currently reside.
There is the gray to be found in a foot print in the snow. This one maybe by a large dog, who shall remain nameless. There is some green-ness just under there. Maybe. A hint, perhaps.And the earthy grayness of lichen on the bark of a fallen stick…. The rabbits seem to dig deeply into the snow with their little feet, creating little indigo spots deep within their prints. Some folks like to show the entire spectrum potential for gray, from darkest near-black, to white. And a spot of red thrown in, just for show. Like the right pair of boots in an otherwise monochrome outfit. I love greeny-gray. My family and students often tease me that I make up colors that I see. But I find that there are so many to see. And not all of them have names. And perhaps this particular shade of greeny-gray exists only in a certain light and at a certain temperature. Sometimes, those who guard the out-of-doors while it rests are those with the most fantastic display of grays. Perhaps it’s his skin tone that brings out those watchful green eyes, yes?The grasses are iced over with ice, which in theory has no color. But when blanketing the golden blades, the gold shines through, making a quality of gray that shimmers with some bits of ochre.Violet, from red to blue, is a long time friend of the color gray. At least in my mind’s eye and upon my paint palette.The skies here, desperate to be blue again, manage a milky white on most days. A gray, tinged with blue. Fallen sticks treat us with a rainbow of grays, from the greeny-greens of the lichen to the violet depths of the moist twig itself.Under all of this frozen snow and winter finery, there are plants, awaiting the spring, which we hope cannot be too far off. But yet, the greens and golds here aren’t yet alive. They are wilted with the gray of winter’s waiting. The color of non-color.Spring is not far off, for on the forsythia, there is the golden-gray and of new life ready for a warm snap…And thanks to the ice, we get a magnified view of their potential….How do you define and delineate the color that marks this season for you? Stop on over at SketchShare (find us on Facebook and be a part of our group!) and let us know! Because gray is a many colored beast.
I hear there is a movie out called 50 shades of Gray or some such. Perhaps it is about wintertime in the midwest.
It is the dead of winter. Finally our Ohio Valley is enjoying a proper snowstorm, as I am of the opinion that if it must be cold, at least the snow is nice to look at. And it is cold. 10 degrees with a cutting wind that makes it feel even colder which is pretty brisk for this area. The snowflakes aren’t really flakes, so much as tiny biting ice crystals. My chickens came out to look around this morning when I went to open their coop and feed them. I haven’t seen them out of doors since, which means they aren’t as dumb as folks might think they are and they are enjoying the day inside looking outside, much as we are here in the house. I imagine them knitting….
I’ve been back home from Taos for a number of weeks now and have a number of Ginger story drafts going which feels really good. It hasn’t been full time art and story though. Lots of catching up to do at the shop and around the homestead. My oldest kidling, a sophomore in college, left to study abroad in Brazil so there was all of that to attend to. (passport, visa, packing, laundry, organizing what’s left behind, vaccinations, etc. etc…) With him off on his Big Adventure, I was at least able to re-claim my studio space which he had occupied since leaving school before the holidays.
Meanwhile, the younger has been in the throes of firming up her own collegiate plans. She is a scientist at heart. An explorer with a heart full of creative curiosity.
Long ago we traveled to a far away land where the landscape was still forming and ferns looked like something from the age of dinosaurs. If you’ve not been to New Zealand, I highly recommend it. And yes, the sulphuric smell in the hot pools was pretty intense.
Thankfully, to begin her university studies, she won’t have to venture too far from home as she’s opted to attend The Ohio State University in the fall just up the lane in Columbus. Alas, I suppose this means we will remain mostly Ohio based for the time being. Though I could see some part time living here and there happening…. One can dream, yes?
This past weekend we took a tour of the science facilities at OSU and were thrilled with what we encountered! The Geology building featured my kind of architecture which felt very Old World and fraught with legend. Turns out that the gargoyles are all creatures that exist (or have in the past) in the Real World.
My favorite part of the day’s touring by far was the Insectary and Greenhouses. Here we encountered some awesome insects (and I mean awesome in the truest sense of the word). Below is one called Amblypygi which you may recognize from the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The professor doing this part of the tour called me ‘The Brave One’ for opting to hold any creature available. This next one is a Blonde Arizona tarantula. In spite of her rather intimidating visage, she was really quite sweet. I have always thought of tarantulas as the Labrador retrievers of the arachnid world. When the kids were growing up we would sometimes visit our long-time veterinarian and friend Dr. Jeff Werwa for a ‘backstage tour’ where he would show us some of his more interesting pets. One of them was ‘Betty’, his beloved tarantula who eventually died of old age. She was as big as a dinner plate by then which made this little lovely seem like just a tiny wee thing. On the very top floor of this building there was a lovely greenhouse where plant scientists grow a huge variety of plants for their research. In spite of single digit temperatures and gale force winds outside of doors, it was warm and moist inside. It reminded me of our local Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati where my fellow intrepid sketchers Vanessa and Christina and I go to draw, especially when the weather is poor. We did just that last week in spite of all there is to do in our work and with our families. It is good to take a few hours and sketch together quietly when we can.
The first sketch I did was of a stone sculpture of a monkey hidden in the greenery near a large philodendron. Vanessa drew the same plant at a different angle which you can see in her post with her sketches. I love to draw at Krohn. There are so many little magic spots that are like little worlds in themselves. In some of the darker, more hidden corners there are sweet little lights which give some ambiance to the underbrush….I have sketched at Krohn a lot over the years, often with Christina and Vanessa, and we always come away refreshed from the lovely humidity and the life giving feeling of being near such beautiful, well cared for living creatures. This time of year these places are even more precious and I am thrilled that my Madeleine will have a place to soak up sunshine, humidity and plant life on a cold winter’s day next year at University.
I’ll leave you here with a few of my older sketches below. There will be more sketching at Krohn, I’m certain. If you see us there, do say hello and see what we are up to in our books. Or perhaps, bring your own sketchbook to this jewel in the crown of our fair Queen City. It’s a great way to really see this magical place.
A week ago today I arrived in Taos here to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House to begin my long awaited residency. It has, thus far, been a magical time filled with wonderful opportunities for inspiration around every bend. I have had a chance to catch up with my Taos based community of friends over tea and the odd burger and beer. I have had hours to walk and admire the natural beauty, even on the meltiest, most muddy of tracks. I’ve been able to set up a bit of a routine which looks a bit like ‘up, write, coffee, check emails etc, write or draw some more, take a walk, have some lunch or a visit with a friend, walk some more, work some more, have some dinner, and then paint.’
I am so thrilled to have so much time and energy to myself. While time is certainly passing as it is wont to do, each day feels nearly endless.
I love the idea of having enough energy at the end of the day to get a second wind and play with my oil paints. Here in Taos, where so much seems possible, I have been able to paint a bit in the evenings. And to think I considered not packing my oil paints…..
It’s been an interesting transition into full time creative work on a daily basis. When at home I am used to dividing my time between day job work, animal/household daily chores, cooking etc. Just dealing with the day to day life of things which are part of my very rich and gratifying life. I fit the art and writing in where I can.
However, here in New Mexico, everyday I stand at the edge of a great chasm of time and space which, I will admit, had me a little rattled upon arriving. While I managed to step up to the drawing board and writing notebook a great deal each day to go about making the necessary work at hand, I spent my first few working days under the great weight of a sense of generalized anxiety, the likes of which I had not experienced in ages. Not just nerves but the Utter Sense of Crushing Doomfor which I am, sadly, somewhat hard wired. The familiar elephant on my chest just wouldn’t let up.
So I walked, I wrote, I practiced my flute, I painted and drew picture postcards to place myself into the heart and mind of Ginger. I just kept moving. There is a lot of current writing and talking about creative work and how it can tend to go hand in hand with anxiety, what with all of the unknowns faced by those of us giving birth to new things and the vulnerability inherent to this work. At least I’m in good company.
After some well timed conversations with friends who get this side of me, I began to visualize the elephant on my chest and decided to ask her why she might have taken up residence on my heart, disallowing this work I truly love so much. And a word came to mind. Play. And then another. Relax. So I opted to take an afternoon off of drawing and writing and took myself and my elephant for a hike. Not just a walk for exercise, but a real hike a little out of town to a little bench I had heard might be waiting at the edge of the Rio Grande Gorge.
Elephant and I had a little chat. I told her that while I can work when she’s snuggled so weighty upon me, it’s actually much easier to let ideas flow when I am not in a state of overwhelming anxiety. She looked over at the gorge and asked me if she might ever be able to ride the wind in the way of the Eagle. I told her anything is possible.
And so, on the little bench at the edge of the Gorge, I helped elephant strap on a little harness which is linked to a very capable parachute, enabling her to safely ride the thermals. To my knowledge, she is still out there. But I’ve made her a little bed in the corner by the fire to lie in and have promised her a lollipop if she keeps to herself while I work once she decides to come back.
Adjusting to life in Taos is exhilarating and challenging and different every time I visit, so those first few days feeling so weighty is no huge surprise. Therefore, it is also no surprise that now the elephant has stepped away for the time being, I am finally feeling comfortable in my own skin again. I am relaxing and playing and getting even more work done. (Funny how that works, isn’t it?)
I’m taking my daily adventures and figuring out what Ginger Small has to think about it all. She’s having a ball. She has skied with her friends (utilizing the handy Raven Ski Lift Company who are ever so trustworthy as one cannot be too careful in the mountains when one is a mere Small Creature)
And Ginger managed to make friends with a field mouse on the Pueblo who taught her how to walk quietly among the buffalo and to gather the purple cacti that small creatures find so medicinal. This adventure was exceptionally powerful.
The Wonderings and Wanderings of a Small Creature in a Big World is coming together – bit by juicy little bit. I am enjoying the work and am so grateful to have the opportunity to be here. You all continue to remind me how loved and supported I am while out here…
Mail is a thrilling thing. I’m excited to head into week 2 of conjuring the Adventuresome Correspondences of one Ginger Small.
p.s. There’s been a fair amount of counting in a long lost language of rhyme in the Rabbits Who Herd Sheep department as well.
Do stop in over on facebook, instagram, twitter etc to keep up with our adventures. And thank you, again, from the bottom of my thankfully lightened heart.