Book Work

I find myself unexpectedly weary today after a day of art making and eating and not much else. It was great fun to dive fully into book work but it is work. And work I love dearly.  I feel a bit more up to snuff in my sketchbook after today’s efforts so I’ll share a few more Antigua adventures with you here.

I’ve been really enjoying meeting the other artists here in Antigua and beyond. Rosemary has made many connections over the years between service trips for her speech pathology work and textile tours. Yesterday we had the pleasure of stopping in to see Lidia López who is a talented weaver among many other wonderful things (I’m keen to learn how to make Pepian sauce from her!).

Lidia was pregnant with her son and visiting friends in Panajachel, and I was a 7 year old kid living in Guatemala City when in 1976 tragedy struck this region in the form of an earthquake.  Thousands of lives were lost and it was indeed something one never forgets. But time passes, and as Lidia says, it was not our time then. We had more work to do.  And so we did.

It was lovely to chat with Lidia about the work she does and life in general. She patiently let us practice our Spanish on her, although her English is amazing. We talked to her about visiting again when we come for the travel sketch workshop next year which I hope comes to frution.

Our visit was over far too soon and I hope to stop in to say goodbye and share with her some of the work we have been up to in the mean time. Including a drawing I made of Lidia herself.

Later in the afternoon we went to sketch and photograph a lovely ruin…..

I was very happy to have my fancy camera this day as the structures and light at play in this old convent make for beautiful imagery.

But time was ticking and the ruins close fairly early to visitors.  We knew we had to get to work if we were to get a sketch in.

As the kids do often put it,

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Seems kids have been the same since time began….

We had 40 minutes to do a quick study and we opted for a fairly complicated stairwell.

While this is not a scaled architectural study, it’s not a bad painting to my eye.  Coming back to this drawing in my sketchbook in years to come,  I’ll remember the light in this stairwell, and church bells on the wind and quiet drawing time with a good friend.  The gifts of a well fed travel journal.

Today was a slower paced day in the way of touring. We had meals out of course but mostly we stayed home and caught up in our books. Little things here and there….

…like this creepy antique wooden baby Jesus spotted at a collectibles and antiques owned by a nice fella called Axel.

I also did a page spread in my book to try and learn a bit more about the weaving tradition here in this country.

Although it took me the better part of the day, I’m happy with the results.

I wanted to try to capture the beauty and variety of the indigo dyed corte or cuts of cloth we encountered the other day at the market in Panajachel. Each piece different, punctuated with the colorful seam stitching called randas.

The textiles in Guatemala are not something I can try to adequately comprehend in one go, but it’s been great fun to get a weaving 101 from Rosemary, Mari and Lidia.

Tomorrow there will be more and more drawing. And I hear tell of some hot chocolate which contains chili powder in it. Two days left in this captivating country. For this visit at least.

 

 

Field tripping

Yesterday we took a field trip to a town called Panajachel where a weekly market was to happen.  We awoke early to be driven higher into the hills near Lake Atitlan. Though rain was forecast, we were greeted with a most lovely day.

I was traveling with my friends Rosemary and Steve of course, who are helping me build my second travel sketch class, but we also were accompanied by Mari Gray of Kakaw Designs, based in Antigua. More on Mari’s work in a bit, but suffice it to say, this was a business trip for her. For me, it was a nearly overwhelming array of color and texture. All gently used and ready to be repurposed.

It was difficult to choose! I purchased one small bit of cloth I hope to make a wee something of eventually but at the very least, it’s just a gorgeous bit to have on hand as a throw.

The prices were amazing and we counted our quetzales and haggled a bit with the vendors which was fun and good Spanish practice.

Soon we were vended out and went in search of a place to eat with a view of the lake. We found a little spot courtesy of our lovely driver and knowledgeable guide, Andres, and we all enjoyed the breezes.

We didn’t tarry long though as we had an afternoon appointment at Multicolores, an amazing artist cooperative changing the lives of women artisans in many areas of Guatemala.

We were greeted at the mysterious teal colored door along a busy side street in Panajachel by the lovely Rosario who proceeded to show us around and introduce us to the vital work going on at Multicolores.

Artists from Guatemala are trained in this rug-hooking technique and given further instruction on basic things as well, such as color theory and even vision statements. 

They were asked to really consider their life’s calling. One wall hanging said:

Solo existen dos dias en el año en que no se puede hacer nada. Una se llama ayer y otro mañana. Por lo tanto hoy es el día ideal para amar, crecer, hacer, y pricipalmente vivir.

Loosely translated, there are only 2 days in the year that you can do nothing, yesterday and today. Every other day is ideal for loving, growing, doing and principally living.

So, not only are these artists learning a skill they can earn a real living off of, they are bettering their lives all around. They take used clothing from the local thrift shops and painstakingly turn them into exquisite utilitarian works of art.

There are also a few beautifully embroidered dolls available as well, which some folks might not consider utilitarian, but I do. Play is a most useful thing.

Will you look at her sweet hair??!

These guys had secret coded messages to share with anyone who knows the language of symbols.

After much careful consideration and admiration of the sheer amount of work this collective produces, Rosemary chose a new piece of art for her newly remodeled space at home. Its stunning. And even more so in person!!!

As much as we had enjoyed this full day, we soon needed to get on the road to avoid traffic on top of the already two hour drive back to Antigua. With rain and pea-soup variety fog on hand, Andres calmly got us through a somewhat white-knuckled  drive and we were home by sundown.

It was a day of no art making for me, but rather of gathering material for consideration. The best travel journals come from real, lived experiences and the impressions these experiences bring to us on many levels.  The tastes and smells of food, the textures of things at the vendors, the people. Conversations with new friends and those overheard at the parque while walking.  All of these things get recorded and captured in some way, even if they don’t make The Book on that very day. There must be a balance to it all.

This taking-it-all-in field trip mode continued into today with a visit to Mari’s place back here in Antigua. It was amazing to see how this young designer lives and works and to just visit and have an opportunity to see the things she creates with the types of materials acquired the day before. She lives in a hidden little magic place with a sweet dog.

Such a sweet, magical place, even the fairies are in residence.

Evidence of Mari’s passion for textiles is at every turn.

Soon we got to see some of her products and how they come together. These lovelies have been well worn and even re-heeled over the years.  They are still beautiful and on my wish list.

She had a few shiny new pairs around as well But they weren’t in my size.

We so enjoyed hanging out with Mari again today and I feel I’ve made a new friend here in Antigua. I’m so thankful Rosemary knows so many lovely folks here!!

This all just takes us through to this morning! I could certainly tell you of Lydia, a beautiful weaver and vendor (and yet another lovely friend of Rosemary’s) who lived through the same earthquake I did in 1976.  And I might also share our afternoon visit to a local ruin and the sketches which resulted.  But alas, those sketches could use some daylight to best share and perhaps these are tales for another day and another blog post.

We have another solid three days here in Antigua and no more lofty plans such as the last couple of days have seen.  Just working in our books and soaking up more of the beauty here in Antigua Guatemala.

We are still working out details for the 2018 Travel Sketchjournal -Antigua trip but if you’d like to be on a list to get more information as it unfolds, just comment below or send me an email.

A busy resting

This morning began misty and mysterious. I sipped coffee and sketched a bit.

We breakfasted – and, following the sunshine, then did a bit of perusing the shops round town.  Have I mentioned the feast of textiles to be found here? Old and newly made, well worn and repurposed, they are everywhere. Draped on the furniture, piled in shops, peddled by Mayan street vendors.

Besides the traditional, there are more modern and quirky things to find as well. I picked this one up for Jack.

Because remember that time he played fiddle and banjo in a hilarious Fringe Festival play called Hot Damn, It’s The Loveland Frog? And also played the frog at the very end… With banjo?

Hmmmm, yeah. Me too. What can we say? It was a paying gig, and it was fun, strange as it all might seem.

I picked up a pair of pantalones from a lovely vendor named Gloria whose passion for the handwork she does in her home pueblo of San Francisco A.C. is truly inspiring.

They have pockets! I love pockets.

All over town things delighted our senses, more to bring back to our sketch practice later over a lunch of leftover pizza which was delicious!

I could make art for ages merely on the procesión we witnessed yesterday.

All the while, our watchful volcanoes drift in and out of their self made mists, teaching us to breathe.

After some work on next year’s travel sketch workshop plans and pondering, Rosemary, Steve and I drifted out once again for our evening meal. Taking in Antigua along the way.

Buenos noches, amigos.

All in a day

I’ve technically been here in Antigua Guatemala for a day. Just shy of 24 hours. And in that time I’ve seen a city of history alive and laughing. I’ve heard many tongues being spoken upon the breeze. One conversation between a lovely, crackling fireworks display to end a raucous saturday evening in town and the volcano in the distance which answered with its own beautiful breath of fire and light in the distance.

Life happens amongst the rooftops and streets here. Creature comforts being the first order of business for this weary traveler, we had a snack before bed late last night up the street and coffee and a hearty breakfast on a local rooftop this morning. The volcano was still whispering its thoughts on the breeze.  After breakfast we followed rumors of a procesión happening a number of blocks away. A celebration of the Lenten season.

Temporary carpets were being delicately installed along the streets where the procession would return them to dust.

It was hot, diligent work. The carpets (alfombras) were crafted of tinted saw dust, raffia, flowers and vegetables.

Some had a way of looking at us.

Soon we reached the center of all the activity, Santa Ana Church.

Here, hundreds (thousands?) of faithful folk gathered to watch the spectacle. I am told this happens every Sunday leading up to Easter Holy Week when things are happening every day by then. But all in all, we were lucky to witness what we did.

After the crush of humanity it was great to get lunch and head back to our hotel, Posada San Sebastián which is a wonderland really. And a feast for the senses for anyone with a whimsical bent.

This special place contains many collected items set around in groupings. Such as chairs.

Enameled porcelain.

Telephones.

And my personal favorite, a cabinet chock full of baby Jesus.

Yes it’s true.

One might think that with barely a day here, all of this activity might have had us so busy as to forget our art making. But I did manage a page in between times.  And after some rest, tomorrow will bring more. Sometimes it’s important just to fully soak up what’s in front of you in the moment .

Good night watercolor set. Goodnight baby Jesus. Goodnight chatty neighbor.

Ya esta por ahora.   Antigua, I love you already.

On Youthful Imagination

A number of years back, one of my dearest friends discovered a little light growing inside of her, someone we all were excited to meet.  Someone who at the time we called Orby –  for he embodied that ‘little orb of light’ that we,  especially his delighted parents, could feel among us as a presence already.   There were not only adults awaiting Orby’s arrival here in this world, but a number of young kids, who adored the parents-to-be and wanted to create something special to welcome their new little friend to this wild earthly existence.

So, as one does, we gathered everyone’s ideas.  We knew that monsters can be the bane of a young person’s existence, at least at first. This group of youngsters wanted Orby to feel safe and loved and to know that not all strange creatures were out to get ya.

As the artist in this particular community, I collected the children’s ideas of monsters in the form of drawings from them.  Some of the kids were older, some mere toddlers, so the monsters ranged in complexity.  But they all told a story, and they all had heart.

Some were bagpipes, which had been feared, but without reason.

Others, haunted the high hill tops and deep valleys of far-flung mountainous terrains.

And still others could be found deep at sea, or perhaps outer space.  Teaching us of worlds away from our own.  For what else are monsters for, if not to inform us of the unknown; worlds outside of our own imaginings?

Orby was born, given an earthly name of Elliot, which suits him beautifully.  And soon, he was drawing his own early doodles, as was his young sister Alice Willow just a few years later.

Their beautiful, crafty mama translated a number of their early drawings into little embroidered keepsakes to keep on the wall in their home and they are lovely in their sweetness and simplicity.

I asked her to snap these lovelies, as well as to take some updated snapshots of the Orby quilted flora and fauna in support of an up and coming embroidery class to be held again at my favorite fibery haunt these days, Fibergé.

The drawings of children are so telling – of what they are feeling, seeing, experiencing beyond the bounds of language which eludes the most adult among us, yes?  With most kids, if we are paying attention as parents or teachers or aunties or care-givers, there is that first magical drawing which actually has a name.  The one in which the child says, “that is the moon.”  or “that, is a pig.” or “that is a feather.” for the very first time.  These are magical moments when the drawn image is tied to an idea.  And if you are an educator or merely a parent fascinated by the stages of youthful development, you know the importance of this jump between what happens inside a young mind, and how that young mind ties it to the outside world through a drawing.

I was in Fibergé the other day picking up a new skirt I commissioned from her collection of AMAZING fabrics (more on that soon hopefully on the blog!!) and we were talking of what might make a nice theme for our next embroidery-class partnership.  I love teaching there and was keen to do so again.  We got to talking about Mother’s Day and how fun it might be to do something along those lines and we came up with the idea to follow the lead of the kids, much as I had done with the Orby quilt years ago.

As a busy working mama running her own business, Lysha of Fibergé-fame has amazing kids who take it in stride to spend time doodling or playing when mama is with a customer or a vendor.  And Lysha pays attention to the evidence of these times with the love only a working mama or papa can have.

I kidnapped a few of these sweet drawings (with permission, of course!) to interpret into samples for the upcoming class this May 6th.

I had a ball and they came together beautifully!

If you are local to the Cincinnati area, do consider joining us for this upcoming class.  Beginners are welcome as we will be covering the basics, of course.  As you can see by Kristin’s sweet hoops above, simple can be absolutely stunning with a simple chain stitch!  But I can also fill you in on how I approached the rest of the monsters in Orby’s quilt and send you home with some ideas for such.

Or perhaps you just want to come in to create a gift for mama, or grandmama (Dad’s? Don’t think you can’t wield a needle?  Do check out the work of Mr. Finch!).  Either way, consider joining us for a workshop at Fibergé on May 6.

I look forward to seeing you there!  In the meantime, stay tuned to this space.  travel season is beginning…….

 

Awakening

I’ve made up a pot of stew, and put the kettle on as well, as this is one of those long and winding posts to share with you a few notions of what’s on my mind, in my heart in recent days.  Welcome, and enjoy!

Remember that warning in my last post regarding the poor plants eager to strut their stuff so early in the season?  Alas, the last gasp of winter (one hopes) has been blowing across the eastern half of the country and sure enough, those antevernals have taken quite a hit.  Many of our flowering trees will have to wait until next year to flower once again, as they are already burned by the brutal cold.  It’s sad, but it’s life in a way. Time in the way of trees. Though to be fair, it’s been a strange season in many ways – as if winter got lost along the way and arrived late and possibly drunk to it’s own party.

This probably seems especially true further out east where recovery from the blizzard is just beginning.  As for us back here in the hollers of south-western Ohio, we had a bit of snow the other day, some serious cold and wind in the meantime, but all in all -unless one is a spring time flowering plant –  we find ourselves relatively unscathed.

(I did manage to rescue a few of the daffodillies before things got too crazy.  And for that I am grateful.)

It’s been a time lately of a restless longing which I can’t seem to name.  And naming it seems important.  As if by naming this vague sense, I could perhaps grab it by the tail and reel it in a bit to get to know it better.  Is it the annual hushed call to be outside, barefooted and full of wonder, after the long months of winter’s hibernation?  Perhaps.  But I sense it is also a desire to delve even further into work I do from the heart.  This art/writing/teaching practice of mine seems to be doing some shifting and deepening on it’s own over these last months (maybe even years).  Whispers of this seismic activity have been in the darker cornered spaces for a time now, but I am beginning to pick up words of meaning hither and thither, as if I am possibly (finally) learning the language of my own heart.

“How do I talk to a little flower? Through it I talk to the Infinite.  and what is the Infinite?  It is the silent, small force.  It isn’t the outer physical contact.  No, it isn’t that.  The infinite is not confined to the visible world.  It is not in the earthquake, the wind or the fire.  It is that still small voice that calls up the fairies.”

~George Washington Carver (former slave, plant genius)

In the deep desire to learn this language, I have been following bread crumbs down many darkened paths.  In my ears as I draw and paint or do the delicate handwork at the concertina shop day job, have been podcasts and stories from near and far.  By early morning I gobble up books and other publications crafted by such writers as Sharon Blackie, Robert MacFarlane, Sylvia Linsteadt and Mary Reynolds whose words and images evoke lands quite far from here but which sound so very familiar to the ears of my soul.

In the book If Women Rose Rooted Sharon Blackie writes:

“Once, we were native to our own places; once we belonged.  There is a Gaelic word for it and coming from a language which rises out of a deeply connected animistic world view, it is not easily translated to English.  These are the languages of root and leaf, of field and stone, of seaweed and salt.  These are the words whispered in our ears by the land as if by a lover; the languages which tell us that we and the land are one.  In Irish the word is dúchas; in Scottish Gaelic, dùthchás.  It expresses a sense of belonging to place, to a certain area of land; it expresses a sense of rootedness, by ancient lineage and ancestry, in the community which has responsibility for that place.  In the Welsh, the word cynefin has a similar meaning. This is the way our ancestors lived.”

It is this belonging I seek.  It is this belonging we all seek really, if we but take time to listen to the whispers of our own longing.  For me, much of this sense of belonging has come by learning the languages of art and music.  These are languages of pure magic.

Through the language of creativity and the visual arts my true inner self was awoken, around the same time as my children were born.  Birthing and motherhood were for me the creative sea-change which unleashed my inner artist.  The kids and I have artfully come of age together in some ways.

Robert MacFarlane tweeted this quote the other day:

“”With words at your disposal, you can see more clearly. Finding the words is another step in learning to see”

~Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer

I’d go a step further and say one sees even more clearly through the act of sitting still and quiet and drawing.  The notion of learning to pay attention in this bold and beautiful world is at the heart of what I teach in my workshops.  To open up to beauty in small ways as we go about our travels or our day-to-day is to open up our lives to beauty in general.  Like attracts like.  The more we hone in on that which makes our hearts sing, the more we draw these things to us.   Drawing is powerful, critical magic.  When I started my journaling classes, I saw them as simply a way to make some art, to share the notion of being more creative in our lives.  But it’s become so much more!  What I teach is a life-altering practice.  And it’s wonderful to awaken to this and shout it to the skies!

And then there is the music.  It’s the Season, after all…..

This bright beautiful music for which I am grateful every day of the year, not just on St. Patrick’s Day.  The learning of any music making is a gift of being human in general, but to find that specific type of music which sings to one’s soul – which opens up the notions of community and friendship and travel in new ways – well, that is a true bronntanas an chroí, a gift of the heart.

Like so many Americans, mine is a hodgepodge heritage of mixed ancestry.  I know bits and bobs of where I come from, genetically speaking, and lord knows I’ve grown up a child of the world at large – moving from place to place, often country to country in the early years, traveling always and mostly saying, “I could live here.”  My family teases me about this, that I seem to be at home most anywhere, especially if there is beauty to behold and capture in my sketches.  And it is true, to an extent.  I tend to bloom where I am planted, with only shallowed roots.  Yet I am always pining for that ‘perfect place’ to call home, while knowing there is no such thing really.

A number of years ago I traveled over to Cavan, Co. Ireland for ten days of the annual Fleadh Cheoil (“Festival of Music”) with my son and a few other close musician friends.  I had been to Ireland once before to run a marathon.  That had been a memorable trip, full of laughter and tourism and many, many miles with my friends from DC where we lived at the time.  A quick in, quick out weekend really.  And we didn’t even get far out of Dublin as there was simply no time.  But this more recent trip to County Cavan was far different.  In the years since my last visit, I had learned so much about Ireland beyond the touristy stuff.  I had taken some big bites of the music and had begun to make it my own in my heart.  I was so much more wide awake this time around.  And the land itself spoke a good deal louder there in the Cavan countryside, away from the traffic and the noise of a road-race, circus-like atmosphere.  Each day as we walked the village roads into town from our little house, I felt a sense of home that, if I am to be completely honest, scared me.  It’s trite in some ways to admit to that sense of home in Ireland.  Especially at this time of year.  It is not my place to claim.  I live in Ohio.  And yet, I have not been able to shake it off in the years since.

I purchased a tiny landscape painting by local Cavan artist Imelda Bradley on the street one day when the sun was actually shining.  This moody image of the misty, lake-strewn land of 365 lakes (one for every day of the year!) hangs by my bedside now and informs my dreaming.  I look to it to inform my sense of home back here at this home, where I live now.  Because this is where I am for now.

I am seeking to deepen that sense of belonging right here, right now. For now is all we are ever promised.  Just now.  Just this moment.  In all of my recent reading and research, I am seeking to find that sense of dúchas in this place in which I currently find myself.    I’ve been reading quite a bit of Wendell Berry’s work, as he lives just down the way in rural Kentucky.  And funny thing is, apparently so is Robert MacFarlane across The Pond who tweeted this out recently:

“….to defend what we love, we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.”

~Wendell Berry (agrarian, writer)

I am finding the language I seek through a mycelium-styled network of like-minded artists, writers and thinkers, many of whom live far away but whose word-ways feel familiar to me.  Sometimes they lead me back around nearer to where I live now which is nice.  While I read the latest book by Irish garden designer, Mary Reynolds,  I also will sign up for an up-coming plant-magic sort of class with Asia Suler of One willow Apothecaries, just south there in the Appalachian mountains, a bit closer to home.  I find both of these gardeners carry a similar take on the magic to be found just below our feet and the messages it all may have for us.  I also plan to seek out the four stands of old-growth trees right here in my own city (yes, it’s true!!!) as written about by local naturalist John Tallmage in a book I am still devouring called The Cincinnati Arch, Learning from Nature in the City.   

I am learning so many new languages.  Layers upon layers of expression to bridge the gap between myself and the world.  The Spanish language, which I will re-visit and practice once again in Guatemala in just over a week.  The language of Irish music, which I’ll play so much of the day tomorrow on the Feast of St. Patrick.  The language of trees, which I hope to learn on many levels.  Having taken down a number of trees recently, I am wholeheartedly asking our little patch of land what it wants in the way of new trees to replace those which have passed.  I hope to have the ears to listen.

I am eager for the language of story as well.  So many of the stories to which I am drawn are from far away places.  The local stories, at least the older ones, are proving difficult to dig up.  But I shall seek them out, even as I enjoy the others, for if a story calls to your heart, then surely there is something there to be learned from it, yes?.  Here in Cincinnati, we live on land much like The Chalk, described by Terry Pratchett in his Discworld books, the Tiffany Aching series in particular.  This Land Under Wave is as good a place to dig in for now.  This place from which to explore the rest of this wide and wonderful world, this place to come home to.

 

 

River Run Wide

For days, it seemed as if it would never stop raining.

We hunkered in our homes, all of us  (including the Faeries, I do believe!) watching the gardens begin to awaken between raindrops and the rollercoaster weather patterns for which our region is known.

We tended our indoor plants as well, hungry to touch something green once again.  We are all of us ready to go outside once more.

As the rain poured down, our normally babbling brooks not only rushed but eventually even did a fair amount of flooding.  Up and over our little bridge and the drive.  Thankfully, the flood waters only lapped up to the door, with nary a trickle actually making it indoors.  We were lucky.

Eventually, the sun has shown here and there.  And things are beginning to bud and bloom.  Risky behavior for these intrepid plants, as warm days are still fleeting.

But bloom, they do.

While the streams rushed outside our doors, and the Ohio River and its tributaries raged closer to town, another far sweeter and gentler River has begun flowing…..

A new album of folk-styled music has been taking shape out in Seattle where my young friend Alex Sturbaum now lives.  You may remember Alex from my post about his amazingly hand-crafted wedding a few months back.  Recently Alex created a Kickstarter campaign for his River Run Wide project and it has been successfully funded (though there is always room for more)!!  I was thrilled when he gave me a call and asked me if I might be able to produce some art work to contribute to the design of the CD and it’s wee booklet.

There are so many tales to be told and behold through Alex’s music -both via traditional songs he’s interpreted for this solo album as well as his charming original works. Narratives rich in visual detailing and a sense of nostalgia for something just out of reach.  You can practically smell the salt air of a ship’s passage in his maritime songs….

You can feel the pull of a mighty river and maybe hear the voices of those working it just over the lapping of the river waves on shore…..

There is a longing for home that music such as this evokes.  It may very well be a sense of home which can never be quenched.

Congratulations to Alex, and his talented band of merry, music-making friends, with whom I’ve shared a number of late night sing-alongs.  May this album head into the world and encourage more singing, more gathering and telling of old tales, more joy in the making of music.