mapping the unmappable

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Here’s the dragonfly I embroidered inspired by the real one I have preserved in my freezer. Although this isn’t the greatest scan of it, I am pleased with how it turned out. It is subtle on it’s black background (I plan to wear this scarf and don’t like to be too awfully gaudy with my accessories!). I was also able to give it just enough iridescent sparkle to allude to the real thing, which is why one reason I think dragonflies are so enchanting in the first place.

Often I find myself following what I think of as “threads”. These are ideas or concepts that interest me, but perhaps for no currently apparent reason. When this happens I’ll google the interest, or better yet, hit the downtown library and look up books that are related to it in some way. Since dragonflies were on my mind the other day, not only did I draw one with thread, but I looked up the symbolism behind them, and what that wisdom might offer. What I found seemed fitting, like maybe I needed to read it and was meant to find it…

Meanwhile, another promising thread I am currently following is cartography. Both an art and a science, the study and production of maps gives people what they feel is a firm understanding of a particular place. What I am interested in is the deeper meaning behind the concept of a map. Can we map time? Experiences? What might that look like? And what about the places in our minds. Herman Melville wrote “It is not on any map; true places never are.” I am interested in reinterpreting existing maps, creating maps of the unmappable.

This is where my thinking is on this drippy, gray (but thankfully, somewhat unseasonably mild!) day. It feels invigorating to be in research mode. Fostering new ideas always puts a spring in my step. We’ll see how this manifests in the studio….

Breathe Deep, Seek Peace

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The other day I offered these words to a friend of mine who is going through a tumultuous time of change and difficulty. I actually read this quote years ago in a book my son and I were reading together about the island of Dinotopia, a magical world where dinosaurs and people live a near utopic existence. In the books,one person (or dinosaur) says “breathe deep” as a form of greeting, which is then responded with “seek peace.”

The books about Dinotopia are poetically written and beautifully illustrated by James Gurney. Plenty of samples of his work are on his website (linked above) but nothing beats curling up in a big comfy chair and losing yourself in the world he has created in his books. They are a feast for the senses down to every last detail.

What I enjoy most in these books besides the images themselves, is the peaceful feeling that pervades the world of Dinotopia. It’s enough to make one want to live there. That said, I can’t help seeing a connection between the philosophy of Gurney’s peaceful world and the philosophy behind the basic tenets of Yoga and meditation. Perhaps we can create just a bit of that peace within, and just around, ourselves here in our world, if we take a moment to breathe deep…. and seek peace.

What’s bugging me

This dang cold weather, that’s what! But even though it has been in the single digits, my fibery friend (and fellow Irish Musician Diva) Jeni Westerkamp and I managed to venture out for a trip to St. Theresa’s Textile Trove. St. Theresa’s is one of the many things that make Cincinnati a great place to be an artist. There are beads, fabrics, jewelry, embroidery thread – all made of wonderful, true materials such as cottons, silk, bone, stone, wool, and much more.

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I bought some silk embroidery thread to add to my stash and I plan to embroider another bug. Those who have known me long enough know that I have a thing for bugs, especially the more dramatic ones. In my freezer I have a number of collected bugs (I always gather them post-mortem, just in case you were wondering) awaiting to be rendered in some form or fashion in the future. I think I am in the mood to embroider a dragonfly, perhaps onto my new black silk scarf….

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One of my favorite embroideries I ever made was also of a bug; a luna moth that was found in Elkins, WV while a bunch of us were at the Augusta Heritage Center for Irish Week. There seem to be all kinds of beautiful moths in the mountains of Elkins and I mentioned that the one moth I had always wanted to catch a glimpse of, but never had was a luna moth. My friend Sherry told me there just happened to be a perfect specimen on the wall of her dorm and so I collected it. It had already died what seemed to have been a painless death, as it was indeed a perfect specimen, like it had simply laid down and died.

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Below is what I wound up embroidering. I made a quilt with this image on it and whenever I catch sight of it on my bed, a small part of me is taken back to the magic that is Augusta.

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pictures speak louder

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I’ve been in a quiet, hibernative mode the past few days where pictures seem more interesting than words. Although I haven’t written much, I have been drawing. Above is a daily dog. I have been trying to capture Iris’s wise and worried look she has in her eyes. I have yet to be successful.

Over the MLK holiday, we spent the afternoon in downtown Cincinnati for ice skating and a trip up 48 stories to the top of Carew Tower. It was a bit chilly down on the square, especially in the shade, but I still had to get a sketch of the lovely, newly refurbished fountain.

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teachers

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There are many different kinds of teachers. At the Riley School of Irish Music, my first teacher was Simone, who at the time was only 14. Although I have now outgrown her class and have moved up a level, I still look to her for musical tidbits, suggestions and nuances to make my own playing better. I hope that someday my playing has half the skill and soul that hers does. With my move to the more advanced class, I have had the great fortune of meeting each week with John Skelton, who is not only an incredible whistle, flute and pipes player, but an inspirational teacher as well. I leave his classes, just as I did Simone’s, feeling capable; hopeful in my own ability to pick things up and improve. This is the magic of a good teacher.

Another talented teacher I know is my friend and fellow artist Lisa Siders. I have never taken a class of Lisa’s but she and I have had many chats about teaching philosophy and I have looked to her recently for guidance in structuring my own class at the Art Academy. She also has taught me more skills than I can count simply in passing or in working together. I can only imagine how inspired her students are and hope I can achieve that same level of teaching magic myself.

Today we went for a frigid walk in the woods near our house. It was the first time the pups had been in an off leash situation and so I was hopeful that Caskie would be able to guide them in the proper walk protocol; i.e.- not running away into the woods. Although I was a little on guard, I trusted my instincts and let the lot of them off their leashes and began to walk. My doggie intuition about Caskie paid off. He came to me whenever I asked him to… so did the puppies. He “waited up” whenever I asked him to… soon the puppies were doing the same. They were looking to him for cues in this new situation and he was being a good teacher.

Teachers, and learners, can be found everywhere, if we are open to being a teacher or a learner ourselves. I learned as much in art school from my fellow students and friends as I did from the many wonderful professors I was fortunate to have. My hope is that in the coming weeks, as I head into the classroom as teacher, I will also have the open mind of a learner. Then, just maybe, I’ll be as inspirational a teacher as the teachers I have known in my life.

reconnecting

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Recently I have felt the familiar feeling of being in a bit of a rut. It is winter time with dark, cold weather, so maybe this is to be expected. But I try not to wallow in it for long. These ruts usually accompany a time when I am busy in all aspects of my life except the art and suddenly I glance at my sketchbook and realize that perhaps days have gone by since I have drawn anything. This is not acceptable.

With the Art Academy sketchjournal class a go in February, I am conscious of needing to have something to show my students. Sure, there are years of journals and I will bring these to share, but there is nothing more magical than the current book being lugged around in my back pack everyday, collecting tidbits from my daily life. It’s important work. This is what the point of the class is after all.

So today I took some much needed time to re-engage my poor lonely sketchbook. I drew some dogs, wrote about and drew my cool new bird feeder (those little dudes actually eat while upside down, it’s really pretty cool). I wrote down a couple of quotes I found inspiring (my favorite was “What is truer than truth? The Story.” wow. Here’s where I found the link to it originally… another wow.) and glued in a picture of magnified carrot seeds I found on the National Geographic website. It has been a busy day.

Nearing the end of it, I feel the rut sensation lifting just a bit. I am getting ready to cook a yummy meal for a friend who counts among his skills the tuning of errant piano keys. I plan to light a fire in the fire place. Life is good. My sketchbook helps me see that.

Survival skill

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I love lists. They are what get me through a hectic week with too much on my plate and not enough time or brain space to fit it all in. Lately the lists have been overly long, and the things that wind up not getting done on these lists tend to be the art related things: practice music, work in sketch book, etc.

As always, my greatest struggle is to create balance in my life between what needs to get done, what I want to do, and what is actually possible. My goal is to pay closer attention to the order of events on my to do lists and better prioritize them. As much as household chores and such need to be done to save my sanity, so too do I need to keep up with my daily art chores of sketching and writing to keep ideas flowing in the studio.

This past weekend the kids and I went to see the musical Wicked downtown. As expected, it was an incredible production that all of us found thrillifying. Attending something like Wicked reminds me what the creative pursuit is all about and helps me to keep my art well filled. It is incredible that what started out as someone’s notion to interpret a book into a musical, has become a phenomenon in and of itself.

One other bit of exciting news is that the minimum 5 people have signed up to take my sketch-journaling class at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. So in February I will embark on teaching a few folks about what I find so satisfying in keeping a sketchbook. I guess that means that my own sketchbook needs to be at the top of my own priority list in the coming weeks!!

Puppets and such

Today was the monthly Family Saturday program at the Carnegie Center for Visual and Performing Arts. As usual, kids and their accompanying grown-ups had a blast creating one-of-a-kind works of art surrounding the loose theme of puppetry. We made felt monsters, sock and paper bag hand puppets, shadow puppets and some simple marionettes based on a design by puppet maker/performer extraordinaire, Kevin Frisch.

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I became interested in puppetry when I made a marionette of Alberto Giacometti for an art history project in art school. After that project I decided to learn more about the legacy and craft behind the art of puppetry and joined the Cincinnati Area Puppetry Guild. Through the connection with this wonderful group of talented people I am learning more all the time about puppets, puppet making, and puppet performing. I even got a job with the local chapter of the Red Cross performing a tornado safety puppet show during the spring season.

Another perk of being part of the Puppetry Guild is the sharing of cool stuff with other people interested in the art of puppetry. My friend Lisa sent out a link to an interesting blog called 3 Quarks Daily. In this particular entry, the author shows a video of a giant puppet show put on in London by the French puppet theater company called the Royal de Luxe. It is enchanting. The Little Girl Giant is so tremendously alive, in a way that is difficult to describe, but this blog does a good job of it.

Whether a puppet is a simple sock character or a giant engineering marvel, the magic lies in the coming alive of something inanimate. This magic is what draws me to puppetry as an artist. I am thrilled that I got to share a little bit of the magic of puppetry with the families who visit Carnegie’s Family Saturday. Hopefully they enjoyed it as much as I did!

sabotaging boundaries

There is a nasty habit of mine where I find myself in a position of having taken on too much, in too many arenas, and then feel crushed by my self-imposed deadlines and responsibilities. This is a cyclical thing that I am coming to realize is a form of self-sabotage.

Every now and then, I need to re-stage my boundaries, tidy up my commitments and give myself some breathing room to work on new ideas. This week I finished up a stop motion video that Kim Taylor and I have been working on. I was interested in making some fun videos with her as a way to learn a little about a new media and to try out some new software. The second of our two videos is now done and it has been a tremendous amount of fun. (The strange image below is the link…)

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I also finished up some simple drawings for the new Riley School website which is being given a make-over.

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These activities have been worthwhile projects for their potential in getting my work “out there” as well as for the new skills I have learned in doing them. Finishing these and some other smaller projects will hopefully free up some space in my head and on my desk for Art (Capital A) as well as make more time for my “paying gigs” which get busier as spring approaches.

Being an artist requires constant vigilance to keep a successful balance. I am reminded of a unicycle rider…