At the beginning of this month, I alerted a few eager early birds that I was about to embark on registration for the Taos 2020 Travel Sketch class at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s. Then just last week I opened up registration to anyone interested. After a flurry-filled week of inquiries and emails, text messages and notes back and forth with old and new participants alike, I am pleased to say, the workshop is sold out!! This is the earliest this phenomenon has ever occurred and I am thrilled. Thrilled that this work speaks to so many, thrilled to be heading back to Taos next summer with a full roster of fellow artists – both seasoned and newly learning their craft.
I am simply over the moon!!
June 2020 is in some ways, quite far off, but it comes around faster than one might expect and I’ll be ready with exciting new things to try in our sketchbooks by then. I am already looking forward. If you missed the call for this workshop, you still have some options. First, reach out to me and get on the waiting list. Plans can sometimes change for people unexpectedly which occasionally might open up a slot for someone else. I am contemplating adding a slot or two extra but need to contemplate this and talk it over with my trusted advisors and the team at Mabel’s. Those on the wait list would be the first to know if anything opens up for any reason.
You can also join me in Guatemala in early spring. Details on dates and costs can be found here. I have limited space in each of the two weeks being offered there and I believe it is only a matter of time before this trip too is sold out. Antigua, Guatemala is a gorgeous, quite cosmopolitan city which carries color and beauty and an ancient magic all its own. It is the perfect way to warm up during the depths of winter! So consider this option perhaps.
Other teaching outings are in the works for California next spring, generally the Bay Area and environs, so if you are local to there, reach out to me and I’ll put you on that mailing list. Right now we are looking at the first weekend in May and possibly some other dates around that time and in that general vicinity to make it that much more worth a trip to the Left Coast.
And so now, I get back to the making of things. Back to tending the craft that allows me to teach these workshops in the first place. I can smell an autumnal journey on the winds about which I am very excited. I’ll be sure and write from the road.
As always, consider getting on the mailing list to get all of the latest news from here. Social media can be a lot of fun but those pesky algorithms do keep us hustling to get the work into the world.
We can see it in the light just lately. A goldening behind the lush greens of late summer.
This morning I take the dogs outside. I take note. And return with my camera to capture these fleeting light-moments.
I begin looking closer. The colors beckoning.
Capturing changing light, shifting colors of the mood of a certain season – this is a favorite thing of mine.
Lately I find myself more and more captivated with capturing the mood of a moment, which colors and light it might hold, versus sketching out what things might “actually look like”.
Over the holiday weekend, we found ourselves in Asheville, North Carolina to visit friends, play a few tunes and hike. On one hike we met a family from Guatemala who were keen on Catawba Falls as it reminded them of home.
I painted them into a little color drawing I made of the moment and shared it with them. We talked of Guatemala and how beautiful it is.
My sketch felt more like a painting, which pleases me to no end.
The weekend ended much too soon for my liking but I have taken custody of a wee hand sculpted by Anna Koloseike of Asheville. I am in love with it’s smallness and the form it takes and am still deciding where to mount it.
It’s like the hand of a small maker. Which is how I feel at times.
Today I sketched at the Cincinnati Zoo for awhile with an Urban Sketcher friend, and a few others joined us after the local illustrator’s luncheon. Although I attend these lunches at times, today’s schedule was cut into slices which didn’t allow for lunch out and so I did what I could.
There just never seems to be enough time for all the things. But occasionally a reminder comes along and I breathe a little easier….
I am grateful for this reminder.
At the zoo today I looked for an armadillo but could only find one with three bands and I need the one with 9. (And a banjo. He must have a banjo.) So I will sketch on until the right fella finds himself at the tip of my pencil and I can pin him down to the job at hand.
More on this little project as it unfolds from here…..
In the meantime, I leave you with Asheville impressions.
Asheville dog culture is wonderful.
It was strange to visit Warren Wilson College outside of the scope of the Swannanoa Gathering. All was quiet and peaceful. But the place is lovely in spite of the music being flung to the hills until next summer. I look forward to next year.
It’s been a wild few days. Outward, ever outward. Shining toward others, ever deserving. Our oldest ‘small’ is returned to the midwest from Aspen‘s heights. He is beginning a master’s course of study in violin performance, settling into a house he’s rented from a family we know well. This gives me the hope that he is therefore surrounded by an extra layer of love as he embarks on this new chapter. I took a day this last week to make the drive out to his new hometown to purchase that first round of groceries (which always proves to be so costly when one is in one’s 20’s) and to have lunch with him and make sure he’s really and truly back from Colorado.
One never knows.
Turns out he’s properly returned. And feathering his new Indiana nest with joy and hope for the future.
Into the weekend we plummet. Another road trip to see an art show in Columbus with a couple of long time artful friends and the younger ‘small’ herself, also settling into early adulthood. It is a wonderful thing when one’s adult children begin to weave their way into our adult lives becoming yet another friend with whom to share experience and art and life. We walk her new dog, marveling at the blessings of *neighborhood* and *community* and the gifts they entail.
The show, In a New Light, Alice Schille and the American Watercolor Movement, is stunning and well worth the visit. The artist’s use of color is at once familiar and cosmic and I become that annoying art viewer with glasses on getting as close to the work as possible, studying brush strokes and color choices up close. I even purchase the catalog. The show is that great. My friends and I study Alice Schille’s life’s arc and timeline and decide she may have known our beloved Mabel. Would they have gotten along? Who could tell. Mabel was a tricky customer. But Alice was making her art. And this is commendable.
The weekend barrels on for myself and my family and while I so enjoy the celebrations and time together, I find myself twitchy today and though quite tired, get the paints out…..
Inspired as I have been by Alice’s work, the watercolors aren’t enough and I reach for the oil’s…..
And I knock out a couple of landscape paintings I am not entirely disappointed with. Not a bad afternoon’s work for one feeling torn in too many directions. One painting feels a bit like home here on the northern edges of Appalachia (culturally speaking at least, for you geographic purists). It is an expression of the days of late August, goldening on into September.
The other is more of a reaching out to the bog lands of Ireland where I will find myself in a matter of weeks. (Still considering taking a small set of oils. Thoughts, dear readers????)
Either way, regardless of where my heart is feeling tugged from one moment to the next, PAINT is always a player -at least in my mind if not in practice- and I am learning more and more (finally) to turn to it when I can, as well as to the trusty old drawn line. I find comfort in the art. I can settle into it. It’s become less something I avoid for *all the usual excuses* and more a place I run toward for solace.
I am thankful for days of celebrating family. And for friends who will travel to see a proper art show. I am thankful for women who made art in a time when it might not have been so fruitful or safe to do so. Have you seen the movie Packed In a Trunk? You should.
Tomorrow is a normal Monday. I have work at the shop to do. Household things to attend to in between attending to the *art mind and body* as it were. Life has to happen. How do you all balance the art making with the need for family time, as well as the solitude which feeds the work and self care?
How can we shut out the world for a bit enough to do our work while not ignoring the realities of the modern age? It’s a tricky business and I welcome any suggestions.
We are home from Maine, landlocked once again to Ohio.
Ohio is not without its beauty to be sure. There have been errands to run, adjustments to be made, momentous birthdays to acknowledge and celebrate.
Suddenly I realize it has been a coon’s age since I had my paints out mixing and dancing their way around the palette. I must dive back in.
August breezes, when they blow, are humid and hot. I figure this weather is a strange combination of the dooming of climate-change and good old-fashioned late August in the mid-west. How are we to know?
Storms do break up the monotony of late summer. They make for dramatic skies and monumental cloud forms.
From the West, always, the clouds gather.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of age that clouds and birdsong catch my attention now more than ever. I seek to paint them in between the expectations of a busy, modern life.
This past weekend there were tunes, on tunes, on tunes. Again I remember – this makes for intense happiness in my heart – I recommit. The painting and the music are inextricably linked. I may not be very good at either, comparatively speaking. But each makes my small heart sing. And surely this is a measure of something in the world.
Something. – in the epoch of our own humanity. We are but a blip in the matrix of the Universe as we know it, and yet we seek these bits of joy and meaning like spiritual breadcrumbs of a sort.
There are more tunes slated for this evening when a few of us gather to choose the autumnal soundtrack for the Riley School of Irish Music. Tomorrow is a road trip to settle one of the smalls (newly returned from western adventures) into his next adventure in grad school. It is good to have him near at hand once again.
Travel beckons again soon. I find myself already getting organized for a weekend trip to Sheboygan in September and a longer journey back to Ireland in October. Some day if I truly settle in one place, it will be a strange day indeed. I embrace this traveling side of myself and am grateful for those loved ones who keep the dogs fed and the home fires burning when I am away. It does not escape me that I am truly fortunate.
When I travel, I travel lightly. I do not plan to take the oils to Ireland this go round as I’ll be on the go more often than not. But I have ordered a new sketchbook and I have extra watercolorey books to pack as well.
The goldening, autumnal season will see me diving back into a world of words each morning once again to find my way through the dark of winter. There is nothing quite like pouring a cup of coffee, lighting a candle and putting pen to paper. This might keep me sane in the dark months to come. But so will hitting the road, discovering and re-discovering new places and new tunes.
What plans do you have this late-summer/early-autumn to feed your soul? How do you survive winters in general? What have you drawn or painted lately? As always, I’d love to know.
I find myself over coffee, eating pie for breakfast. This is not a bad thing. As I choose pie over cake any day.
Yesterday was my birthday. It was, by some accounts, One to Be Reckoned With. On paper I turned 50. But as I have never been one akin with numbers, this slice of information seems irrelevant really. Over the years of my wild and somewhat nomadic life, I’ve known friends and loved ones who’ve lived and loved but briefly in this earthly sphere. From their early leaving I’ve learned to count my days and age here in this world as blessings, not curses. They might give anything to be here.
“Welcome to the Crone sisterhood! Time for an adventure. Remember this is the age Bilbo set off!” ~Christina Wald (Creatrix of Embrace the Crone.)
Collectively, we are fairly recently returned from a magical time in Maine….
“Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of equal trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (via@brainpinkings)
We spent a couple of weeks resting and recharging after a spring and summer of hard work and hard play. I for one simply can never get enough of the sea. In recent years, I have taken to ocean swimming whenever possible. I do love the lakeside where we spend the bulk of our time, but honestly, I am an oceanic creature. I long to come home to that each visit. These brief forays make me wonder, why do we live so far from the sea?
“Swimming, One Day In August
It is time now, I said,
For the deepening and quieting of the spirit
among the flux of happenings.
Something had pestered me so much
I thought my heart would break.
I mean, the mechanical part.
I went down in the afternoon
to the sea
which held me, until I grew easy.
About tomorrow, who knows anything.
Except that it will be time, again,
for the deepening and quieting of the spirit.”
“It is time now, I said, for the deepening and quieting of the spirit
among the flux of happenings.” And so it is.
“Terrible things are happening outside. Poor helpless people are being dragged out of their homes. Families are torn apart; men, women and children are separated. Children come home from school to find that their parents have disappeared.”
~Anne Frank via @annefrankcenter
Recently on one of the many and varied and periled portals to the online world, I shared the above quote from Anne Frank to my profile. I do my best to be a good citizen in this world and prefer to engage in political discussions over a cup of tea or glass of wine, face to face and with respect and regard for friends and family with differing views. But on one particularly difficult news day, Anne’s words came to me and I shared them in response to the day’s events. I honestly believe that sometimes to say nothing (even online) speaks volumes. Even if one is attempting to keep one’s online sphere to work and play (i.e. art and music).
It is no new concept to be misunderstood online and so I was not surprised to be challenged and shamed for sharing the above quote. “Why compare the recent ICE roundup to the atrocities of the Holocaust?”, I was asked.
Yes, this is different. No, these folks were not being rounded up and led to their deaths, necessarily speaking. Yet I do not think Anne Frank would mind my quoting her in these difficult times. History has taught us that small steps in the loss of our humanity amidst the atrocious treatment of and attitude toward others can be devastating over time. The Holocaust did not happen over night, but rather incrementally while no one was paying attention, until it was too late.
It is my opinion that we as a country and perhaps as human beings in general are at a crossroads of great importance. The United States seems to have lost the plot, especially when it comes to empathy toward our fellow ‘human beans’ as I’ve often put it. The world is left wondering what the hell is going on. I am fortunate enough to travel outside of the country to know this first hand. I am also fortunate enough to know folks far less progressive on the political spectrum than myself who agree with me on this current trajectory of inhumane cruelty-turned-policy we face in our government. At the heart of it all, we simply mustn’t dehumanize one another. Not at the border, not at protest rallies.
And so where to from here?
On this my first official day in The Age Of Cronedome (let’s face it, the words “forty-something and fifty-something have very different cultural connotations, though they essentially are but a day apart) I am in a quite privileged place of having space in life to make some decisions regarding my service to the world. Perhaps I have some wisdom after all. I continue to believe that the gifts of Art and Music are paramount to my calling in this world. These will continue to be my focus and my center. But I also feel a deep commitment to my own human-ness and to the human-ness of others. I also intend to continue to apply that level of care and humanity to the not-so-human elements of the natural world. It is time we begin not to be the center of our own planning. The world needs more of us.
Essentially, as far as age goes, I’ve crested. I am likely to live far fewer years on this side of fifty than on the first. So it is more important than ever to simply own who I am in this world and in this lifetime before I embark on the Next Great Adventure, as it were. I am deeply proud of being a soft-hearted, quick-to-cry “snowflake” (as the modern vernacular puts it) who doesn’t fear living in a world of pure imagination. I like to think this vulnerability is part of my charm. Yet much like my beloved Tiffany Aching, though my outer shell may be soft like chalk, I have a center of hard flint which is likely to start fire if it’s agitated enough. In other words I am tougher than I might seem.
Perhaps you dear readers may see a bit more of what some might call “politics” on this old blog space. Or perhaps not. But either way, I’d rather you think of it as me just doing what I can while I can during my time left on the earth.
“We are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilised vase on the table.” ~DH Lawrence (via September Publishing and Dr. Sharon Blackie‘s If Women Rose Rooted.)
There is love above all. And just behind that, the notion of right work, which for me is always where I come home to. The day might be long, the news might be dire. But there is always a tune to figure out, or a painting with whom to dance or a dog to walk, a loved one to hold.
“When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection,
even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead
are standing about you and watching.”
–excerpts from the poem “On Work” by Khalil Gibran
For me, to do my work, is to love the world. Even at its most unloveable. This notion, along with that of coming back to my own breathing, are the only things I know to keep me centered in the maelstrom of life. For at the heart of it all, this is what love is.
“You don’t have to move mountains. Simply fall in love with life. Be a tornado of happiness, gratitude and acceptance. You will change the world just by being a warm, kind-hearted human being.”
~Anita Krizzan ( via a text to me on my birthday from the one and only Amy Malcom who really needs to start a blog, or better yet, write a book. Her words make a world.)
So back again, to the breath and the work. I’ve become so practiced that I can find my way in seconds if I but remember to breathe deep, or set about mixing the colors, or playing the scales……
“I should paint my own places best, painting is but another word for feeling.”
~John Constable, 1821
For those of you who’ve been reading awhile, thank you. To you quiet new ones, welcome. It’s an introverted paradise here where I sometimes feel I’m writing to a tribe of crickets, but then I meet one at the Trader Joe’s and I’m no longer so lonely in the writing. (Joan, do come back to RS, the whistle awaits!!)
Happy birthday to me. Here’s to many more years.
ps, the art work I share here is often for sale. Do let me know if any of it strikes your fancy and we might work out an exchange. I picture a back alley transaction involving my wearing boots with many buttons, a hat to hide my visage and perhaps bringing along a young dragon looking for a new home.
“We withdraw not to disappear, but to find another ground from which to see; a solid ground from which to step, and from which to speak again, in a different way, a clear, rested, embodied voice we begin to remember again as our own”
We find ourselves in Maine, where once upon a long time ago, many many lifetimes ago actually, we came as newly fledged adults to begin finding our way in the world. Much like recently hatched ducklings, we imprinted on this land then and have returned year after year in pilgrimage to this place which so shaped us in those early days. The smells, sounds, color and light here are different from all else and they speak in a soul-full tongue indeed. We are grateful to be here.
As it is a “workaday” sort of day for many of us here, I crept away to a local point to give my paint brushes a little spin, they having collected a bit of dust during my time down other, more musical pathways recently.
I found a perfect spot under a shade tree, at the end of a lane one can find only by foot. There were welcoming spots in the form of benches and water accessible paths. I opted for a space at a picnic table and set about to sketch a bit. It was clear that other artful efforts had occurred in this very space as there was evidence.
So I began with the watercolors, of course.
Eventually moving over to oils…..
…..which are not without their frustrations, but I mixed and painted and observed and corrected and painted some more. And got the bones of a painting down which I can perhaps work with later in the week once we are settled at camp.
All in all, it was lovely exercise on this, my first day back here in Maine where we are settled in for awhile, nestled by the sea.
Laundry hangs on the line, drying best it can in this humidity before we hit the road again. On my desk are half written lists of to-do and to-remember along with the fragments of last week’s fun in various states of unpacking, unfurling into readying and re-packing. My mind and heart are full to brimming with a collection of new tunes I can carry with me into the next journey which is to Maine. A yearly homecoming of sorts, much like many of my trips tend to be.
“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke
Last week we leapt into the mists of yet another magical “Celtic Week” at the Swannanoa Gathering in beautiful North Carolina. Much like the story of Brigadoon, we picked up right where we had left off the year before greeting old friends as family, getting to know new friends as well, as if nary a day has passed, let alone an entire calendar year. Irish music does not follow the rules of linear time. The only line it truly follows is that of tradition. The river of music flows along over top of that tradition, above and below it, side-stepping occasionally into other musical paths, (this IS a living tradition after all.) Eventually though, it always comes home once again to the thing itself. We came to the week with no agenda except to improve our playing a bit by spending time with masters of the craft.
“The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” ~Socrates
Somehow I have carved my way into classes and sessions loosely labeled “advanced”, and yet I come to this week with my mind fully open to learn new things, to be -always – the beginner. There is no place at Swannanoa for ego or agenda.
Our musical “rock stars” who tour the world with their gifts come to camp not only to ply their musical wares….
…..but to have a laugh and a tune as well, to bask in the amazing community that is the Swannanoa Gathering. It is so readily apparent how hard they work all week, but it is also clear that this week is as special to them as it is to us.
As the space which holds this special time, Warren Wilson College does not disappoint. It is nestled in the mountains near Asheville North Carolina, with views and vistas at every turn and even in some of the classroom spaces which remind us of what is possible if we but relax into it all.
The week was one of metaphor and depth. We talked of honoring those who have come before us in this music by looking back often to older playing which may have gone out of vogue for a time. We must never forget those who have come before us.
Sometimes we wandered through cathedrals of bamboo and dove into the depths of the river Swannanoa for a bit of wild swimming. This returned many things back to center, especially our core temperatures. It was a warm and steamy time.
There were concerts and a bit of dancing. There were classes filled with new tunes, but not too many. Just enough. There were moments of goosebumps up our arms and spines as we felt things bump against the root of all things. Music and art making are conduits to this great source.
A few of us have been attending this week of music for many years and we opt for dinner and a bevvie or two out in town one evening each year. I was thrilled to see a bit of our musical shenanigans have made their way into that other world….. viva la flutilla!!!!
Soon, we had crested mid-week into late-week, then late-week into last night. The mists of time descended upon us that final night as if to tell us it’s time to go back…..
Many years, this thrust back into what some might call “the real world” is painful and we find ourselves pining and weepy. This year was different. This is not to say that I don’t miss my flute family. I really do. Instead, I think it is clearer than ever that the real world, at least for those of us willing to live in it on a daily basis, is that of art making and the sharing of a tune or a story. The real world is that quintessential Irish humor and side-eyed self deprecation which puts everyone at ease and the belly laughs that come along with this “craic”. We live in difficult, trying and combative times. Perhaps we can learn from the Irish tradition and its history that even in the most dire of times and conditions, there is always room for a tune.
“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
― Hermann Hesse
Thanks again to the staff and everyone who makes this gathering possible. til next year!!!
if you are new to the reading of this blog, I have other posts about other years. Just type Swannanoa into the search bar.
Recently, while in Colorado visiting one of the (not-so)Smalls, I got a text message from one of this year’s Taos sketch-workshop participants:
“I’m deeply grateful for the opportunities you’ve facilitated through your workshop. Amy, when you fling open the Juniper House doors and stir the creative pot of Mabel’s legacy, Magic happens. Unleashed into a space pulsing with anticipation, your energy swirls and settles around us in a joyful and gentle comfort. We’re home and we’re safe to explore, to express and to grow. My sketchbook is no longer a project. It’s now my friend. Thank you for leading this horse to water and showing me how to drink. I’ll never be thirsty again.”
~ Donna A.
I’ll admit I got a little teary-eyed. Here I was, back in the mountains and receiving this incredible gift of not just positive feedback, but real soul-bearing words about the experience of someone who’s been a recipient of my work in this world. It is my hope that anyone working in the world today might get the same gift. Thank you Donna!!!!
Normally, this time of year, I wouldn’t be even thinking of Taos much. Forging on ahead with the rest of my summer which is filled with the beauty of family time and musical nerdiness (where I get to be the student!!!). But this year, Taos has lingered. I find myself back there in my mind’s eye a little more often, making paintings, touching base with loved ones there, and looking ahead to next year……
The above little marketing video was made for 2014, but it’s still very valid and gives one a sense of what I’m up to in my workshops. The tone and feel of the thing, if you will…..
Today I got a message from a musical friend who’s partner has been dabbling in the paints a bit and he thinks perhaps she might like to come to Taos next year. And what are the dates? And is there space? So I figured I would quick post the answers to those questions in a little blog post.
Next year, 2020, marks 10 years teaching in Taos, New Mexico at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. The dates for the 2020 workshop are June 7-13. You can find more information here. (Prices, exact dates and what you can expect, etc)
If you are interested in going, here’s how it happens. September 1, 2019, I will send an email out to past participants who in this last year have expressed interest in next year’s trip. They have about a week to decide if they want to send in a deposit. September 6, I will announce open registration for any slots left.
As I take payment by check in the mail for deposits, I simply use the date of the email or message you send me to hold your slot verbally until your check arrives and we keep a wee list (the Hub calls it a spreadsheet) of the order of incoming requests for space in the class. As of this writing, I am holding the class in Taos to 16, but that could wiggle a bit depending upon interest. But I do like to keep it manageable and make sure everyone gets the one:one instruction in their books as needed.
Every new year is a bit special and certainly different from the years past. As I learn and grow, I bring that to the classroom in Taos. We try new ideas, we share what the world has brought to us in the year since we last met. It truly is – MAGIC – for lack of any better word. I have learned to trust it.
So. If you are interested in the class next summer, mark your calendars. Get on my “subscribe” list here on the website. That is the best way to get the announcements in a timely fashion. If the dates for Taos don’t suit your calendar, you can consider my trip to Antigua, Guatemala in late Feburary/early March of 2020. There are still 3 slots left in each week so far and those are likely to fill soon.
Thank you for your interest in exploring Taos, New Mexico with me, whether it’s been in past trips, or if you are only just considering coming along. There is truly no place like it.
I am between traveling. Home from a brief visit to Aspen, Colorado, where our son Jack is part of the Aspen Music Festival, living his musical dreams to the fullest. It is truly something to witness, one following their truest path. He is at home in music.
While he worked and practiced and performed, we took in the natural splendor of Aspen and surrounds, grateful to Jack’s wonderful hosts who took us in and treated us like family.
It occurred to me while sitting at the base of the Maroon Bells that the best people in our lives, many of the most important connections moving us ever forward and truer in our own lives, have come from a few simple things – art, music, and the pursuit of what makes our souls sing most heartily.
I think about the time years ago, sitting at the base of those same iconic mountains, when I made the decision to pursue a proper art degree upon returning home from a metalworking class I’d taken at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass near Aspen. What is it about the clear mountain air and the presence of a stately, ancient mountain which affords us such lofty notions? I do not know. But I’m beginning to pick up on the fact that if I have something to think about, I should find myself at the foot of Taos Mountain, Volcan de Agua, or perhaps those lovely iron-laden Maroon Bells to find my answers.
Aspen felt like a proper vacation after the rich and deep work done in New Mexico. While the Hub and I did sketch quite a lot in some gorgeous locations, there were often times I personally just sat and took it all in. Jackie Morris of The Lost Words fame recently stated on an episode of Folk On Footthat one of the most difficult things for her to learn as an artist was that the sitting and thinking and looking and thinking some more, are as important to her job of Artist as the pencil and paint to paper practicalities of her craft – perhaps even more so. Having not come from a background and family of practicing artists, she’s found this notion difficult in past, and has only recently begun to truly take it on board. I feel much the same.
That said, the watercolors and pencils do beckon in beautiful places, and I did make a few drawings.
Aspen is steeped in the arts, with ties to the taste and aesthetic of the Bauhaus tradition in its design and of course in the music festival itself held there each summer. Everything is better with the arts involved.
Today, just now, I write to you here fairly giddy with relief, gratitude and a sense of overwhelming possibility. I have *finally* (after literally years of frustration and hemming and hawing) upgraded my tech tools here in the studio.
I’ve invested in a more travel worthy laptop machine for writing and photo-manipulation on the road, and even opted for a large home-base monitor when I am at my desk in the studio. Sometime today (*hopefully*) a little scanner will arrive and I’ll get that set up as well. All of this is in keeping with the plan to get more work made and into the world. Let’s be fair, I work. I work a lot. In some ways I am never NOT working. But so much of my energy was going into technical glitches and the waiting and slowness of manipulating photos on outdated technology. If I was to engage in a blog post, I needed a solid day to get it made. And so, I found myself putting off writing. I have so much work to share, but with an old scanner, my work never translated well to digital, and so it took a lot to get it tech-ready for sharing online or presenting for publication or applying for grants and residencies. With some encouragement from Vanessa at NessyPress and moral support from the Hub, I took the plunge and threw the necessary gold coins into the abyss to get the tools I needed.
It took some doing, and a few trips to the computer store and calls to the tech folks at apple, but we managed to get it sorted. And here I am, knocking out an update here in a more prompt and succinct manner. This feels sustainable. It was time for this investment.
But tech tools aren’t the only important thing, of course, merely being the vehicles by which the work is dispersed in this world. I also took a bit of time to make a traveling oil paint set up.
Watercolor is generally my go to travel companion. I have the set up I love, a little traveling “van” in which to cart it all, and it really works. Even so, I pine for the oils when I find myself in beautiful places. Our family trip to Maine, coming up later this summer, is a perfect combination of loads to do combined with plenty of “down time” to just play. That play might be on the water, catching up on books we’ve been meaning to read, or perhaps trying new recipes with one’s best friend in tiny kitchen at camp. But there is always more time, and that is when I start feeling restless, wishing I’d brought some oil paints to play with.
So I put together a handmade pochade box of sorts, crafted from an old wooden cigar box, plus a little carrier for any wet panels I may want to bring home.
The pochade box is pretty sturdy, and the wet panel carrier will do until I decide if this is something I may do again and again. All in all I spent about $20. A worthwhile investment on vacation satisfaction I do believe.
Upon returning from Aspen, I felt overwhelmed with home chores and the work needing caught up on at the shop and in my own studio. And so for the first day or so, I just painted and played music.
This practice set my head on straight and I was then able to sink into the tasks at hand. I am deeply grateful for all of it. I often think that in this day and age, it is difficult to remember to take a few minutes to breathe. To play a tune, paint a picture. There are Big Things we must tackle (did you hear Amy McGrath is taking on Mitch McConnell??), situations we must face, as heartbreaking as they are (there has to be a better, kinder, more humane way forward at the border, don’t you think?). Life is complex, and tormented at times, but it is also beautiful and simple in many ways as well. It always has been.
Next week I am off once again for my own musical adventure at the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina. On the one hand, this week is truly a get-away-from-it-all Brigadoon of sorts where we forget the world outside, focus on learning tunes and improving our craft and catch up with dear friends who have become musical family over the years. But on the other hand, it is so much more.
This week at music camp, and for that matter, my week of teaching in Taos each year, are a form of deep magic. Magic which in some way counteracts all of the darkness we see through our screens in this modern age. The very human physicality of coming together to play tunes, sing songs, laugh and cry together over the year’s happenings, somehow counteracts the “badness” in the news. It’s not a cure all to be sure. But it is the way many of us take respite from it all, if only for a moment, in order to get back out into the world and do the work.
Artists confront the difficult in this world. Just look online at the work of artists during WW1 who were interpreting the previously unimaginable through their paintings. I personally have taken to avoiding the echo chambers of social media for my own outrage over the state of things nowadays. But I have my ear to the ground. I support candidates who are doing good things in the world. I take to the streets as needed. I volunteer with and support the vulnerable. But I also seek joy. And beauty amidst the outrage. For if I, or any of my artist friends begin to lose perspective (and isn’t it so easy to do?) then we amount to nothing.
It is my hope to be a source of light in the darkness in this modern age. A reminder there is a place by the hearth-fire for anyone who needs a break between difficulties. We cannot do it all, let alone singlehandedly. Art and Joy, Music and Friendship, Beauty and Solitude are worthy pursuits, even in this fast paced, crowded, often seemingly ugly world. Let us make art and music.
“The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark. The small truth has words which are clear; the great truth has great silence.” ~Rabindranath Tagore
To arrive at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico is to step over a barrier of sorts. Time and space are steeped in a special fluidity here which makes them more malleable than elsewhere. Every year my goal as a workshop facilitator is to pack as much practical ‘how-to’ into a week devoted to the travel-sketch-journal process, whilst also making way for more ethereal notions such as magic, friendship and community. For opening up to what we each have to offer the world. For finding our own visual voices.
“Every one of us should risk living in the full flow of our own originality. And never to compare yourself with anyone outside you but to trust that inner voice that is speaking to you and whispering to you from the well of great possibility that lives inside you.” ~John O’Donohue
This year is my ninth year working in Taos in this capacity. Over the years I have come to trust that while each season will be new in many ways, we can trust that we will be embraced by a familiarity to sink into which makes space for the best work. I like to think of our travel journals, as well as our classroom space, as vessels to be filled during our week together. My job is merely to hold the space, to hand out bite sized demonstrations and then steward each participant along their own journey. In spite of two last minute cancellations (alas, too last-minute to offer their spaces up even the most last-minute takers) I had a relatively packed house. These numbers bring an energy to the room and to the work we do, and yet there was a lovely intimacy within this group straight away.
We went from an empty vessel….
……to the buzz of a room of artists happily working along together.
Some dear friends from Taos Pueblo visited us on our first day together to share their process of crafting beautiful pottery with mere land, water, time and fire. This was a new idea for this year and I wasn’t sure how I might fold it into an already full teaching agenda, but everyone was quite pleased with the experience (if not the eventual results from the firing).
Time spent pinching pots, forming beads and wee fetishes was time learning about this place we found ourselves – Taos.
It was wonderful to get our hands dirty with the very land itself.
Working with the clay deepened our journaling work indeed…..
We talked of color and form. We worked on studying ellipses (hint: they aren’t hotdogs or footballs.)
Some participants went so far as to use bits of spare wet clay as a painting pigment.
We allowed our wee works to dry through the week. Some cracked, all shrank a bit, but by week’s end, things were dry enough to attempt trial by fire.
Alas, the wind kicked up on firing night and our little works had to eventually be fired on our final morning by our friends out on the Pueblo. In the end, only a few things survived unscathed and most of us went home with mere shards of our work.
For a variety of reasons, I am still glad we spent the time to play with the clay. For one thing, I think everyone came away with a deep reverence for the professional pots made by native hands from native land. Their pots are deceptively simple – until one has attempted to create one, that is! It is a good thing to know how difficult some work is. We can then appreciate it all the more, yes? We all also enjoyed getting our hands dirty and using the clay as pigment. As my workshop is about capturing the spirit of a place, and our experiences in that place, this mini afternoon workshop-within-a-workshop was worth the investment for the beautiful drawings that came out of it.
But of course, there was more to be captured. There were mornings with the buffalo where we gathered before dawn in small groups to visit the herd we’ve come to know so well. I never know year to year if this is something we will get to do again, and so every year I am deeply grateful to spend time with these ancient and wild beasts. Many lovely drawings were made of the magnificent buffalo, but I was firmly planted in teaching mode and so didn’t manage to get a snapshot of these works.
We talked of how to capture light.
Especially, when we find it in darkness….
We took much time to study the colors found in New Mexico such as rust and turquoise, and the complexity of cloud forms.
We doodled ‘carrot people’ from afar and each other closer to hand.
We attempted the challenging yet forever whimsical birdhouses in Mabel’s courtyard…..
“Our pigeons live in a Mexican village reared high up on thick, long posts. I love the expression of their frame houses, that have been added to by José for years. They lean strangely in all directions, and look like a settled community.
… One has to pick one’s way among them on the flagstones from the house to the gates. They feel they own the place and I guess they do. We never let cars drive in beside the portal any more as they used to do because the pigeons wouldn’t move away fast enough and they were always being run over. Finally I put a sign on the gates and locked them. It said, ‘Please don’t drive in. The pigeons don’t like it.'”
~Mabel Dodge Luhan
We worked and we worked and we worked.
We also spent time outside of class at the Pueblo watching the light dance as it does.
Sometimes I see things that give me some indication of what Georgia O’Keeffe may have been after in her paintings….
All too soon our week together was coming to an end. As one person put it, the days seemed spacious and extensive and long in the best way possible, and yet the week as a whole simply flew past us.
We had a final farewell dinner in Mabel’s iconic dining room.
We presented the amazing kitchen staff with a gift of our own making, being so grateful for their hard work keeping us fed and watered all week.
That evening we signed each other’s books, “yearbook” style, and visited together. Some even worked a bit more in our beloved Juniper house classroom! I took “The Vans” outside for a photo shoot, just for fun. It’s my hope that even more folks will carry their sketch supplies around in vans like these in future…..
It is nigh on impossible to capture this week in a blog post. I look back over the years of posts about this trip and I marvel at the layers of meaning and experience I have managed to convey each time – of the changes that have shifted into place over time. The kinship of place I feel toward Taos is complex. In one way, I always feel as if I am coming home. As one friend back here in Ohio (though who travels to Mabel’s on occasion) recently stated, “It’s Mabel. Everything will be fine. Pulling up in the parking lot always brings me to my knees. ” I agree with her.
Friends always ask me, if you love it so much there, why don’t you guys just move? I haven’t yet felt that call, but every time in Taos is harder to leave behind, to be sure. The town upped its game further this year with my introduction to a special breed of sheep called Churro. One of the workshop participants is a shepherdess and has been renting a small place on the outskirts of town which just happens to have a small herd of these amazing animals. After the workshop, Rosemary, Steve and I visited our new friend on her little farm and got to meet the sheep, the farmer who is their steward in this world, and to marvel at how the hidden depths of Taos seem to have no end. I could not stop staring at these sheep.
Those of you who know me, know I adore all things sheep. I have even joked that one day perhaps I’ll be like Beatrix Potter. I’ll publish and sell a bunch of books, and then retire to a sheep farm. One never knows…..
In any case, next year, 2020, marks a nearly decade of this work finding its way in Taos. I feel it may be a special year indeed. (Though to be fair, every year is a gift of it’s own.) I will be offering up pre-registration to this year’s workshop participants first and then to a broader audience after that. This will happen in the first week of September when summer’s travels are through and I begin to set sights on next year. I have a feeling that #TaosSketch2020 may fill fast, so keep your eyes peeled around that time for announcements. For now though, I will unpack here and rest up for what the rest of summer has to offer.