This morning, just after my first cup of coffee, an autumnal sonic assault begins. A murderous whirring of epic proportions.
The gas powered leaf blower.
It is nigh impossible to think for oneself amidst the din of modernity, particularly in suburbia, where the moving of leaves around seems to point to some sort of status.
I wonder, what we might hear if we were afforded an opportunity to listen deeper. To listen to the miniscule preparations being made by the smallest of creatures….
Roll, roll, grumble, grumble, roll…
The sounds of a gathering of food stuffs for the winter season. Acorns, walnuts.
Crack, snap, crack, crack, stack…..
Further gathering and arranging of sticks and wood and kindling with which to warm ourselves in the months to come. Even the smallest of fallen twigs might be of use.
Perhaps we hear the click, click, click of knitting needles working woolens into garments for bracing against autumnal winds…..
Maybe we hear the gentle felling of ripened fungi in the forest, so that they might be dried and saved for soup making.
What sorts of sounds do you listen for when the leaf blowers finally run out of gasoline? How can we better listen to the quietude offered to us by the smallest of woodland creatures? How might we better listen to ourselves?
“I don’t want realism. I want magic.” ~Tennessee Williams
There is much coming and going of late. Hither and thither we work and play. I’ll share a bit here as I set aside remembered things to pack away for upcoming workshops. Antigua beckons…..
Narry a week ago, I was working in my own sketchbook in a warm place called Key West. When I wasn’t strolling the colorful streets filled with colorful people, feasting my eyes on color and light, I was bobbing in a pool or better yet, in the sea herself – buoyed by salt, water and sun.
pay no mind to the chitter chatter in the clip above, we were on a sunset cruise. I was captivated by the murky depths. And miraculously I did not get sea sick.
Key West enchants with its embedded quirk round every corner. Some folk come here to drink their cares away, but I for one came to drink in more than just rum. Though to be fair, rum has its place.
If one but stays just off the beaten path, there is charm at every turn and lovely sunsets to behold. And it can be a balm for the soul of a weary, land-locked midwesterner nearing the end of a long, gray winter…..
We paid homage to the sea and to the rich history of the place, even visiting the home of Ernest Hemingway which boasts 55 polydachtyl cats living their best lives on the property.
There is magic around every turn there.
Too soon we must return home once again to the gloom and gray of Ohio. But we look for the quiet magic to be found here.
My daughter and her boyfriend are home for break and he has some new camera gear he is eager to test. He stunningly captures the magic of our yard in the dark. With his extended exposures, our criss-crossing creeks become fully laden with an Otherworldly quality and I am reminded how lucky we are to have this little patch of land of ours.
Art has a way of reminding us of the beauty in the world. Music as well. This week ahead is the high holy season of Irish music and we are quite busy indeed.
Tuesdays there is always a session here in town, even on ‘normal’ weeks. This Tuesday we are at Streetside Brewery on Eastern Avenue. It’s one of our favorite places to play. Saturday March 16, I join the Roving Rogues to play St. Patrick’s Day eve at Arnold’s Bar, Cincinnati’s oldest tavern. and on Sunday, we once again will play in the evening at Palm Court in the Hilton Netherland Plaza hotel. Come on along and enjoy a fancy cocktail. Escape the green-beer fray, won’t you?
I am so grateful for the music.
And this music as well….
Our Jack was part of a concert celebrating the music of Bach which we attended last night. It was divine and captivating, as Bach can be, and we were swept away on this stormy evening to another world indeed. There is more this evening as well, I can’t recommend it enough.
All is not angelic and ethereal round here however. As I mentioned, I am busily getting last minute things in line for my double workshop endeavor in Antigua, Guatemala. This is keeping me on my toes instead of at the drawing table or in the journal where I belong. I embark on that journey later this month.
But before I go to Guatemala, I am attempting to complete a somewhat hefty hand-made project, which in it’s own earthy way is keeping me grounded in work. That of a 3′ X 4′ latch hook rug project for the annual May The Fourth Star Wars Tribute show.
I’m using a grid to help me keep track of my design on the canvas.
All the yarn I am using for this project is either from my own stash of leftover yarns or has been acquired second hand at Scrap-It-Up over in Pleasant Ridge. This has added some complexity to the rug itself and is helping me to make Chewbacca extra fluffy and scruffy.
My studio assistant Ian takes his job quite seriously.
Until he’s ready to leave the room, at which point he rings the bell to let me know.
Working a bit on this rather ridiculous project each day keeps me grounded and working with my hands which is good for my head ironically enough. And this is good.
And so, the fitting in of all the pieces of this life’s puzzle continues. While I must admit to this being a rough winter in many ways, things are looking up now that the light seems to linger longer in the days, even when it’s snowing. The sun is even shining today as I write this. We must always remember that change is the only constant and we must at least attempt to move forward.
I say this as a reminder to myself really. Behind the scenes here I spend a fair amount of time applying to and being rejected by various opportunities such as with publishers (who often don’t/can’t respond, which feels like throwing work into a great dark abyss…. hello- oh – o – o …….. receiving back only the boniest of echoes) This is all part of the process. I will say, while it does continue to smart, it does get easier the more one applies.
Residencies are yet another application process I find myself often involved in, always looking for some way to go somewhere inspirational, seeking a deeper sense of time and place to make and grow my work. I can’t tell you how many of these opportunities I’ve applied to, heart firmly tied onto the application via the proverbial string, only to be denied for my efforts. I really try to envision myself there when I apply and so I do pour heart and soul into each application.
To those who’ve never thought about these things, one has to remember that merely applying is often a great deal of work – writing essays and statements, gathering photos of work, recommendations, tweaking one’s CV, etc. etc. I fit these efforts into the small spaces between the usual goings on of my day to day. And I just keep trying, allowing a bit of grief and maybe some ice-cream when a particular refusal really gets me down.
But I do keep trying. And sometimes, like throwing spaghetti at the ceiling, something sticks……
I am beyond over the moon to announce that my Maine based friend Julie Persons of Adventures of Claudia and Chicks In Hats fame and myself have been selected to share a month long residency in Ireland next year for the month of October. We are thrilled!!!!
We have put up the party flags and are doing a little happy dance, albeit virtually for now.
I’ll share more about this exciting news as things formulate into firmer plans. But for now it is enough to have the invitation from Olive Stack in lovely Listowel and to know the dates we are to be working there.
So much rich stuff ahead. And the challenges too that we face in this world on a personal level of course, and globally as well. I said to someone the other day that this is the new normal for artists – to be able to hold in our hearts and minds, at the very same time, the dual notions that all will be well, and that things are really wrong too. – This is not an easy task. But I aim to try, as I have for years now. To highlight and showcase beauty, to work for positive change. It’s what the artists I most admire do best.
Baby steps, Micromovements (as this blog has long been named) is how we move things along, how we take the leaps to grow into new opportunities and to try new things that challenge us. It’s terrifying really. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”
New album, Songs of Instruction, by Kim Taylor, is now streaming…… I highly recommend it.
The wind blows and blows and blows today. The sort of ill-wind which sets my teeth on edge and often brings on a seizure spell in poor old Iris Rose, our resident canine barometer. Mother Nature seems to be telling us that she’s none-too-pleased with the state of things. And who can blame her.
“Cover me, cover me, cover me, cover me. All the leaves, all the trees, the storms and seas, just cover me.
Cuz I’m troubled by this world. I’m troubled by this world.”
~Kim Taylor (from her new album, Songs of Instruction
Today a random peek at my social media feed provides the gift of a beautiful new rabbit hole down which to venture. The evocative nearly 3 acre world of Bealtaine Cottage, a permaculture life and project of one Colette O’Neill of Co. Roscommon … (I know, I know, more Ireland…. but I don’t seem to be able to find quite the same specific, familiar magic here in the states – Ohio specifically. So here we are, in Ireland, once again.)
O’Neill seems to have a direct picc-line into the heart of all-earthy-things through her blog and video presence online. In her nearly 14 years of living with and on her land, she has documented her journey and now carries an enthusiastic following from like-minded folk around the world. I now consider myself one of them.
To watch and listen to a video post of Colette’s is to enter into another realm of sorts. She is not just a gardener. She is a guardian-er. She is the Bob Ross of Guardian-ing. (seriously, just go listen to her.) Today as I worked at the drawing table, I had her YouTube channel on, going from one meandering, thoughtful video to the next and I found myself transported. These are ad-free videos I might add. Which adds (no pun intended) to their appeal.
Long ago, when I first began this wee artful place of my own here on the inter-webs, a few kind souls, eager to see my art work and writing take flight, suggested I engage in making a bit of money here and there by allowing some thoughtfully chosen ads to roost in this online nest along side my own work. I’ll admit I thought about it.
The push to make money is a strong one in our society. But I realized that those ads might be like the greedy cowbird who comes into the nest seeking refuge and an easy birthing place, only to kick the original egg or fledgling inhabitants out onto the pavement replacing them with their own agenda. In the end, I decided to be ad free from the beginning, much like Keri Smith, whose blog and art I have also admired for many a moon. I have yet to regret this decision though it has meant only the slowest of growth in a world obsessed with scaling things to the next level.
Travel season is coming. I look forward to this, though I have mixed feelings about it to be honest. The workshops I teach involve my going far afield and this means flying- which isn’t the best way to treat the planet just now. But, for the time being, this is just how it has to be as I build things in my work. To mitigate this damage, I’ve taken to driving way less where I can here at home (have cut the day job commute to 2 days at most!) and keeping things as local as possible when I am in town. Small moves such as moving our family medical practitioner to one just up the street, versus clear across town, to name one example. Little things add up, I do believe. And it’s a start.
Our little patch of land has seen a great deal of change in recent years with the loss of trees suffering death and damage from the emerald ash borer, (to name just one culprit.) We have begun the replanting with apples, a new hawthorn tree and some berry bushes (who were nearly decimated by deer last season and so we will be fencing more properly this year).
As I begin to fly hither, thither and yon for my work, I will come home in between trips to plant trees. Willow, oak, maple. More fruit trees as well. We will have to protect them from the deer who can destroy everything in their path – this being no fault of their own really, just a sign of how out of balance things are in our little corner of the world. I am hopeful to put a fence around a small front garden patch to attempt a bit of a kitchen garden at least. With perhaps a trellis of sorts to provide a bit of shade on the front door now the trees aren’t there any more……. I can just picture how happy the morning glories and clematis might be there…….
This is the only thing I know how to do as we move forward. The world is in trouble. There is no denying this, though so many – especially within the current leadership of this country in particular – do deny it. But we can all play our part. I am inspired by those walking the walk far better than I just now. And I follow blindly in their footsteps. Balancing the cliff’s edge of my own mental health, the need to do my work, and the necessities of next-steps-forward for the planet. It’s a tricky tightrope trek to be sure.
I welcome your thoughts on balancing things as we move forward as human beans – with the best options for this place we call home. There’s going to be a lot of trial and error. I find inspiration abroad but closer to home here as well…
For my friends out west, there is also a weekend sketch workshop with me in the Santa Cruz area slated for May 18 and 19, 2019. Send me an email if you are interested!! (linked is my post about this year’s trip, which was wonderful!)
And below, I’ll catch you up a bit on the landing home after a most wonderful summer……
The future is indeed very bright around here. We ‘gotta wear shades’ as they say. This magical gypsy summer of serious traveling has left me feeling newly and deeply inspired, even unmoored and untethered at times. Summer is always a a season of churning and resetting, but this year these feelings are exceptionally poignant and rich. I’ve had so much time to think about things, what with all the flying and driving and waiting and watching along the way from place to place to place.
A bit of art was crafted here and there while on the road, but mostly I found myself in a place of keen inner observation, a bird’s eye viewing of the self just now and the work currently at hand.
This summer I pondered a great deal about what in the world I am up to in this artful life (age appropriate behavior, as I just turned 49 the other day!!). So many proverbially spinning plates all going at once, and there’s me, the mad, rushing spinner, jumping from thing to thing, spin, spin, spin, lest it all come crashing down around me. At least, that is how it feels some days. On other days, the balance of things settles deeply into my heart and I just know I am on the right track, in spite of all the wobbly plates.
“Balance. It was all about balance. That had been one of the first things that she had learned: the centre of the seesaw has neither up nor down, but upness and downness flow through it while it remains unmoved. You had to be the centre of the seesaw so the pain flowed through you, not into you. It was very hard. But she could do it!”
― Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight
Recently, I was listening to a lovely chat between Krista Tippet and Liz Gilbert on the nature of creativity and the notion of choosing curiosity over fear. (I like this notion a lot.) There are many quotable gems throughout this interview and I highly recommend you take a listen to the unedited version of it. There was one small thing though that made me stop the recording at one point and run for the journal to write it down. Gilbert was talking of an inspirational favorite poet of hers called Jack Gilbert (no relation) who was described by his students at one point as being a teacher who –
“didn’t necessarily teach us so much HOW to write a poem, but rather WHY to write a poem.”
This statement stopped me in my tracks. In some strange way, this philosophical shift encapsulates the work I do with travel journaling in my own workshops. Yes, of course we do a bit of Drawing 101, and Basic Use of Watercolors, and etc. But more importantly, we work together to get to the whyof it all. Why even bother to draw or paint or capture quotes in a little book which no one besides our patient loved ones will ever see?
Somehow, through the experiences shared as fellow artists, we distill these notions into the inspiration to do the work and figure out why along the way. It is all about enchantment.
And so, while I do teach the how-toalong with my fellow sketchers locally, my heart of hearts is invested in the why of it all, which is at the core of my travel based workshops.
Coming to this realization has helped me connect the dots a bit in the work that I do. How the practice of local “Urban Sketching” might relate to and feed my passion for making anthropomorphic illustrations of animals having people-like adventures. How these illustrations might also be “serious” enough to feed the fine-art branch of my artistic interests (i.e., paintings, sans hamsters). How the fiber-based arts of embroidery and knitting might serve as idea-hatching meditations (whilst on the surface they may look like netflix-binging in my pajamas). And how all of these varied practices might actually come together to make the workshops I teach quite different than others because they come from a very unique place, me.
And now here it is, not even the end of August, and I am already a feeling a little less angsty about work. A bit more centered in forging forward in all of it, varied though it may be. I am excited to have the dates and costs set for 2019’s offerings so get those checks in the mail lads!!
It feels good to be back home in this ol’ river valley of ours for a couple of months before the need to escape it all once more overtakes me and I hit the road again.
But for now, I am settled in my little nest, catching up on work at the shop, drawing and painting and writing every day possible and trusting that all will be well.
ps. Many of you have been asking when an Ireland based workshop might happen. As of this writing, the right place has not quite found me yet. And place is important. We’d need a home base, something with space for us to live while we work (lodging AND classroom space); a place which has available local meal-catering options we could hire in if needed, walkability to a local village (because, MUSIC!) and preferably near the sea. If you have any places on the emerald Isle to suggest, do let me know! In the meantime, I plan to get back to Ireland on me own via artist’s residencies and visits to friends when at all possible. I’ll keep you posted!
“You can think and you can fight, but the world’s always movin’, and if you wanna stay ahead you gotta dance.”
— Terry Pratchett
Yesterday a number of us gathered at the local Irish Heritage Center to celebrate a very special birthday. Our beloved Riley School of Irish Music turns 20 this year and to mark the occasion, we put on a ceili, which could be described as like a wedding, only without the happy couple. There was music from our ceili band, much dancing, called and instructed by the one and only Éamonn de Cógáin, lots of food and drink to be had, and all in all was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.
It is difficult to describe the place the Riley School has held in my life personally, and in the collective life of our family. The music my kids (one more than the other) and I have learned and played over the years has changed us all for the better. We have life long friendships now which we’d have never found without this school. I began at the school as a mere parent accompanying my child to fiddle lessons – and I found my tunes and my tribe. This music has taught me many things which apply to a life well lived and art well made. I’ve learned to be less shy, to laugh more, to make mistakes and keep on playing. My son has gone on to pursue music as a profession and my daughter can still pluck out a few tunes on the banjo. (Party tricks do come in handy and one must always be ready to surprise people.) We are better because of this little school which teaches what some might call a simple folk music. Which I suppose it is. But it’s complexity is to measured by the effect it has on the lives it touches. Musicians play so that dancers might dance, at least in the Irish tradition. It was lovely to have such intrepid souls out to dance this day, many mere beginners.
But soon our caller Éamonn had everyone laughing and trying steps and smiling and dancing.
With all of the malcontent the recent political happenings has dredged up, I have been thinking a lot about the place of music and artfull-ness, and dancing and laughing in the face of all of it. I imagine that those who played Irish music over in Ireland during the troubles certainly must have played in spite of, or perhaps because of, difficult times. And we do too, now, in these difficult times. To be fair, I suppose many voters do not think we are in difficult times with our new leadership choice. Though I certainly do.
And so, it is more important than ever to dance. To play our favorite tunes with vim and vigor. To paint the brightest of pictures. After all, we are all running along on the hamster-wheel of life.
I hear told that there was a similar dance, also with a band, in the town square of HamsterTown. One wonders what tunes they danced to that day, and whether their caller could even hold a candle to our Éamonn. I imagine, he’d have given him a run for his money…
A couple of weeks ago I took a short stop motion animation workshop through my local artist’s collective at the Kennedy Heights Art Center. The instructor is Kate Ball whose work is interesting and hand crafted and which has just the right amount of surreal creep factor. I loved it! We had a ball working as a group and I knew I’d want to go home and try it myself. Here are the early experimental results……
I have no idea if I will keep working in this medium as the paints are calling. But I like that this is just another tool in my took kit in the art making realm. I do enjoy it. I hope you do too!!
Always a step ahead, is our inner muse, in whatever form it takes. For me, it is often Ginger Small, so small yet so intrepid. So willing to step in to the trust of adventure in spite of her perceived size, stature and strength. After all, we are all only as big, powerful and strong as we believe we are.
And so we send these muses ahead of us to pave the way. Ginger has left here (with a sliver of my own gypsy-traveling heart) to begin the trek out west to Taos where I will teach later next week. It’s more work than a week should be and so I pack and prepare maybe more than most might for a normal work week. I love this work. This week is what I prepare for all the rest of the year. This week of sharing my book-based process of sketching and keeping a visual diary with workshop participants. I love it. And during this week, I am always inspired to pursue my eventual studio work more fervently once back home.
Ginger Small, my little book character yet to be snatched up and published but yet ever so present in my imagination, has gone on ahead of me, as my imagination and muse-selves are wont to do. I wish her “Fair Winds and Following Seeds” , a play on an old navy tradition of wishing one on a journey or a move ‘fair winds and following seas.” For we are following the seeds of inspiration. To see what feeds us. What grows with a little planting, watering and weeding.
Whatever you are pursuing in your own artistic journey, Fair Winds and Following Seeds to you. And let me know what comes of it. For after all, we are on this journey alone, yes. But also with one another