Happy Solstice everyone! Here’s to a return of the light.
I am just returned from an intensely inspiring conference at the Mazza Museum, an oasis of beauty and innocence in northwestern Ohio of all places. If you are anywhere near Findlay, Ohio and have an interest in or love of children’s picture books, I highly recommend a visit. The weekend conference seemed to be geared toward teachers and librarians, the very folks who use and champion the work of people who make illustrated books for kids (in whose ranks I will be one day!!) There were also a couple of us art folks lurking in the audience as well of course but it was really wonderful to meet such lovely educators and book enthusiasts.
We heard from David Wiesner who spoke eloquently about “worlds within worlds within worlds”. He signed not only the book I picked up for my nephew, but also my sketch book. I consider this inspiring glitter to have been bestowed upon my lowly book.
Next day we heard about “sharing the truth of the world”, “clinging to a raft in a sea of doubt”, and how publishing a book is like an electrical impulse going pole to pole to pole from author Tony Abbot. He also discussed the tremendous responsibility behind the notion of telling a good story, whether through words, pictures, or both.
“Children are a much more important audience than adults.” ~Laurie Halse Anderson
Sergio Ruzzier talked of his love of picture books as a child when the ones with too many words proved overwhelming. I am anxious to try out pen and ink in a new way after his demonstration and talk. His books are beautiful, and his lecture was really entertaining.
Brian Biggs’ series Tinytown books (among stacks of many he’s made) are all about “creating a world I want to live in.” Amen.
Nikki McClure had me in tears during her speech, as I have been on the verge of tears ever since the election and all that has gone with it. She was honest and vulnerable in her talk as she too spoke of deep grief over the meaning of recent events. They are not trivial and are not politics as usual. She spoke straight to my heart.
“Make. Learn. Speak.”
“Books are a place of calm and centering.”
“Trust the child.”
“Draw. Draw. Draw. Thinking comes later.”
“Books should have food in them.”
“Use color to tell the story.”
“All you need is a pencil. All you need is a dream.” (in which I am, once again, weeping.)
Dan Santat finished off the conference, exhausted from what seems like a grueling touring schedule, with an inspiring talk about his own work and the trajectory it’s taken. He talked of embracing boredom, and being comfortable in your own skin as an artist. That is where one can find one’s individual style. I shared with him this sweet image of my good friend Alice who is a huge fan of Beekle.
All in all, it was just what my gentle heart needed after this past week. I had to drive through the heart of Trump-ville to get there but it was worth it. And I cried some more on the way home, allowing my grief to flow, although I know the conservatives who voted for our new President-Elect just don’t understand this depth of sadness and are asking us to get over it and stop being such crybabies.
Well here’s the thing. Perhaps it’s this election and all of the vitriol involved. Perhaps it’s the essence of middle age. But I am done being told, in ways subtle as well as straight up obvious, how to feel. About anything. To be an artist, in my truly humble opinion, is to have an open heart. To feel deeply whatever it is I am feeling. There is really no other way to our best work. And so I weep.
The Mazza conference was just the shot in the arm I needed just now. I feel recommitted to getting my stories and pictures out to publishers and eventually into the hands of teachers and librarians and children themselves. I had spent the days before this conference wondering how to move forward from here in a country so hell bent on moving backward in time. We had come so far and yet now, we tilt back into a time of rekindled hatred and distrust. It is heartbreaking.
So the pressure is on now, to give love a chance. I leave you here with some Bowie and Queen. In hope. Under Pressure.
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance
Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
Give love give love give love give love give loveBecause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the (People on streets) edge of the night
And loves (People on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Ever wondered where intrepid hamsters head off to when they escape? I think I may know…. Ginger Small seems to be in the mood to head to New Mexico again for some tea and piñon in the high mountain desert, and perhaps a little mystery as well…. I shall be joining her to teach my Illuminated Sketchbook workshop of course. But I hope to follow Ginger’s desert adventures here and there as well, if she permits it. I’ve heard there has been a lot of rain there this season, and things are exceptionally green, for the desert.
The partial story below was recently discovered and I hope to uncover more of it very soon. It’s rough writing… think of it more as a sketch….
A while ago, years perhaps, (or was it just last week?) I was curled up under some fresh shavings, about to enjoy a long awaited and delicately saved blueberry yoghurt treat when suddenly, a soft glow began to emanate from somewhere not too very far outside of my habitat. This was no normal glow. It was neither warm, nor cool. It was just… green. In the way newly grown ferns are in the springtime, just prior to unfurling. This green spoke of freshness and strangeness. I had a sense this light was for me. I do not know how I knew this. Somethings, I guess we just know. And so I quietly shuffled out from under the shavings to take a peek.
One might wonder why I did not stay hidden beneath my shavings. I was, after all, quite sleepy, and I was so looking forward to my yoghurt treat. It may have been simpler to remain hidden. But I have found that often, the best adventures come on the heels of the moment we trust the small intuitive voice which tells us, though this may be a strange green light, it seems friendly enough.
And besides, I smelled tea. And desert sage. And, could it be?…. a hint of burning piñon? !
I decided to undertake dire action, and climbed out of my habitat to greet whatever – whomever – might be shining this light in my direction.
The instant I made this decision, to shed the boundaries of my normal habitat, things got very interesting.
I was suddenly surrounded by colors I’d never encountered and vistas which made my heart sing. I was not sure where I was heading, but I had a feeling, it was going to be a wild ride….
Til next time,
…And that was about all I could find of this particular adventure, though Ginger has hinted there is more to the story.
I’ll be sure to keep you posted!
A week ago today I arrived in Taos here to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House to begin my long awaited residency. It has, thus far, been a magical time filled with wonderful opportunities for inspiration around every bend. I have had a chance to catch up with my Taos based community of friends over tea and the odd burger and beer. I have had hours to walk and admire the natural beauty, even on the meltiest, most muddy of tracks. I’ve been able to set up a bit of a routine which looks a bit like ‘up, write, coffee, check emails etc, write or draw some more, take a walk, have some lunch or a visit with a friend, walk some more, work some more, have some dinner, and then paint.’
I am so thrilled to have so much time and energy to myself. While time is certainly passing as it is wont to do, each day feels nearly endless.
I love the idea of having enough energy at the end of the day to get a second wind and play with my oil paints. Here in Taos, where so much seems possible, I have been able to paint a bit in the evenings. And to think I considered not packing my oil paints…..
It’s been an interesting transition into full time creative work on a daily basis. When at home I am used to dividing my time between day job work, animal/household daily chores, cooking etc. Just dealing with the day to day life of things which are part of my very rich and gratifying life. I fit the art and writing in where I can.
However, here in New Mexico, everyday I stand at the edge of a great chasm of time and space which, I will admit, had me a little rattled upon arriving. While I managed to step up to the drawing board and writing notebook a great deal each day to go about making the necessary work at hand, I spent my first few working days under the great weight of a sense of generalized anxiety, the likes of which I had not experienced in ages. Not just nerves but the Utter Sense of Crushing Doom for which I am, sadly, somewhat hard wired. The familiar elephant on my chest just wouldn’t let up.
So I walked, I wrote, I practiced my flute, I painted and drew picture postcards to place myself into the heart and mind of Ginger. I just kept moving. There is a lot of current writing and talking about creative work and how it can tend to go hand in hand with anxiety, what with all of the unknowns faced by those of us giving birth to new things and the vulnerability inherent to this work. At least I’m in good company.
After some well timed conversations with friends who get this side of me, I began to visualize the elephant on my chest and decided to ask her why she might have taken up residence on my heart, disallowing this work I truly love so much. And a word came to mind. Play. And then another. Relax. So I opted to take an afternoon off of drawing and writing and took myself and my elephant for a hike. Not just a walk for exercise, but a real hike a little out of town to a little bench I had heard might be waiting at the edge of the Rio Grande Gorge.
Elephant and I had a little chat. I told her that while I can work when she’s snuggled so weighty upon me, it’s actually much easier to let ideas flow when I am not in a state of overwhelming anxiety. She looked over at the gorge and asked me if she might ever be able to ride the wind in the way of the Eagle. I told her anything is possible.
And so, on the little bench at the edge of the Gorge, I helped elephant strap on a little harness which is linked to a very capable parachute, enabling her to safely ride the thermals. To my knowledge, she is still out there. But I’ve made her a little bed in the corner by the fire to lie in and have promised her a lollipop if she keeps to herself while I work once she decides to come back.
Adjusting to life in Taos is exhilarating and challenging and different every time I visit, so those first few days feeling so weighty is no huge surprise. Therefore, it is also no surprise that now the elephant has stepped away for the time being, I am finally feeling comfortable in my own skin again. I am relaxing and playing and getting even more work done. (Funny how that works, isn’t it?)
I’m taking my daily adventures and figuring out what Ginger Small has to think about it all. She’s having a ball. She has skied with her friends (utilizing the handy Raven Ski Lift Company who are ever so trustworthy as one cannot be too careful in the mountains when one is a mere Small Creature)
And Ginger managed to make friends with a field mouse on the Pueblo who taught her how to walk quietly among the buffalo and to gather the purple cacti that small creatures find so medicinal. This adventure was exceptionally powerful.
The Wonderings and Wanderings of a Small Creature in a Big World is coming together – bit by juicy little bit. I am enjoying the work and am so grateful to have the opportunity to be here. You all continue to remind me how loved and supported I am while out here…
p.s. There’s been a fair amount of counting in a long lost language of rhyme in the Rabbits Who Herd Sheep department as well.
In just over a month’s time, I have raised over 65% of my goal of $2500 which will offset costs for my upcoming writing/working retreat in New Mexico. It’s been amazing to get checks in the mail and see paypal bits pop up in messages on the computer. Thank you SO very much!!
There are still two weeks left to contribute to my residency fund and every teensy bit helps. I am busily preparing the cards and other rewards available for contributors as thank you gifts. It’s wonderful to see Ginger’s adventures in print on cards and it feels like a sneak peak into what she will look like in book form, which of course has been a long time dream of mine…..
I am humbled by all the support and praise of this little character I spend so much time with. A dear and far-flung friend of mine said this about our Ginger…
“I love that she’s so fearless! Sailing, traveling, etc. I admire that. I think it strikes a chord with people.”
And it’s true. She IS fearless. Or at least, like most of us, she pretends to be. And that affords her opportunities in the world she might never have dreamed possible! There is much about Ginger’s story I do not yet know, and that the point of this residency in Taos. To suss that story out. There is a wonderful scene in the movie Miss Potter where Beatrix Potter is presenting a new painting to her publisher, friend and future fiancee, Norman Warne, about a rabbit’s Christmas party. She says about the story of this legendary party…
“Now I know such a legend exists, because I made it up…. I know on this night, that they will eat and talk and laugh and dance, and roast apples on the fire, but I’m not certain how the party ends, because I haven’t made that part up yet.”
And that’s exactly how I feel about Ginger’s story. There are things I know. She is adventuresome and a bit of a fashionista, in spite of her shyness. She loves to meet other animals who are equal parts like her and unlike her, and she loves to send postcards….
The postcard angle is where Ginger got her true start and it continues to be a huge theme in her story. Since I too love anything to do with hand-crafted correspondence, it is no surprise that I have been following the work of the Letter Writer’s Alliance for a number of years now. With their tag line reading:
“An Alliance for those who enjoy letter writing and postal adventures.”
it’s no wonder I love the work they do, gifts they share and postal related products and activities they post! You see that stamp on the post card above featuring the cardinal? That stamp is an example of what the LWA calls “fauxstage”. Not true postage contributing to the delivery costs of the card, but rather a stamp-like image that adds to the postal allure of the card. I adore letters and postcards that come with extra cool stamps, don’t you?? Well, it occurred to me that with Ginger’s love of all things postal, a wee partnership with the LWA might be in order. So I contacted them to see if I might put together a Ginger themed stamp design of my own to offer as a free download on their site. It would prove to be a fun exercise for me, and would be a gift to offer to others who adore sending well adorned envelopes and postcards through the mail.
And so, here is the result of our partnership!!! I took a winter/Solstice-time themed image I created last year in this post, and added some stamp-like things to spruce up its postability and to make it look official, and voila!! You can download this page at their website now, in a printable file version. I think it turned out really sweet! And it’s our gift, to you.
While we are thinking along the lines of stamps and post and holiday correspondences…. this image is also now available as a printed card that you can get at my Society6 page.
And so, amidst the busy-ness of this season, I am also preparing for my retreat from things in just over a month’s time, for that is when my best work is known to peek out of it’s shy nest hidden at the edge of the woods….
“Physically, the creature endowed with a sense of refuge, huddles up to itself, takes to cover, hides away, lies snug, concealed. If we were to look among the wealth of our vocabulary for verbs that express the dynamics of retreat, we should find images based on animal movements of withdrawal, movements that are engraved in our muscles.” ~Gaston Bachelard (from The Poetics of Space)
We’ve had a mad road trip to a cacophonous regional dance tournament and ill loved ones bravely facing down end of life visitations and decision-making. There are concerts in which to participate and to attend… gifts to seek out and parties to plan for, bake for and to attend. It is December, and somehow the Spirit of Waiting which our souls crave during this season of Advent and Solstice is harder and harder each year to achieve. Yet I celebrate all of the gifts of gathering this season brings while I prepare for the calm at the end of the storm.
During those first few precious days of a New Year, I will retreat to work in Taos, at a place that never fails to stir my deepest creativity. I’d love for you to be a part of this retreat; to follow the story of a small creature in a big world, who believes in the magic of a well drawn, hand-written postcard in the mail box. I’d love for you to join a young rabbit, who in spite of being a rabbit is quite the shepherdess, as she counts her sheep in a long lost language of rhyme. Pitch a coin into the little donation basket being offered by these creatures. Be a part of their burgeoning adventures. I thank you kindly for all of your support.
Happy December to all….
It is autumn time and despite some sneaky warmth in the weather, Ginger and her friends know that winter cannot be far on the heels of fall.
And so, between jumping into leaf piles, gathering pumpkin seeds, and building winter-worthy nests, Ginger has made some new friends in the forest and they have swapped preparatory skills. The field mice, experts in softening up a home with fresh mosses and mushrooms show Ginger around the darker sides of the forest. Squirrels, the quintessential gatherers, share that putting up food for a winter pantry is as simple as gathering nuts and canning berries. Simple things, when the work is shared among friends.
In return, Ginger teaches her woodland friends how to knit eensy sweaters to keep the drafts at bay and how to brew a proper pot of tea, which isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
Ginger loves to make new friends, and to keep up with her old friends via the post. She is excited to send postcards to all of her dear ones when she is traveling later this season, ready to get to work on her memoir.
It is a blustery and quite rain-drenched day here in the Ohio Valley. Indoors, Ginger Small and I are carefully weaving together our plan for the work that will be done in just a few month’s time back in our home-away-from home in Taos.
But we need your help in turning this plan into a successful reality.
As I have mentioned before, I have the honor and opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in Taos as the Writer-in-Residence at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. I go there this upcoming January with a number of ideas and characters adrift in the watery depths of my imagination, two of which are almost firm enough to touch. I have Ginger Small’s adventures in pictures, collected over the years, which could use some corralling into story. And there is a nearly finished picture-book manuscript which needs it’s pictures to come to life. This is a sleepy-time book about counting sheep, and the shepherdess is a young rabbit named Edith. I won’t give away much more, as I am sure Edith’s story will change and grow, much like Ginger’s has.
Edith and Ginger need my undivided attention and care to come to life in this world; to take shape enough that they may knock on the doors of publishers and printers. This residency offers me this chance to tighten up these stories and get them out into the world.
How can you help?
I am aiming to raise $2500 between now and mid December which will assist with the following costs:
~car rental for part of my time in Taos
~food and sundries
~$ to cover my time off of my day job
In exchange for your donation to this project, I will be offering some rewards:
$15 level – hand-printed, single color, lino-style thank you card sent to you in the mail
$25 level – A copy of the Eco-Chic Retreat DVD set (I am proud to be a part of this amazing film project. This reward was kindly donated by film-maker Jody McNicholas of Walk-in Productions. Only 1 available!) (Update – this reward has been claimed and is no longer available! Thanks!!)
$40 level – set of 3 Ginger Small note cards featuring a variety of images from Ginger’s best known adventures. OR sheep/rabbit images, your choice!
$75 level – A postcard from Taos! New Taos Themed Ginger Small images will be happening for this trip. We will have them professionally reproduced and then send you a handwritten greeting from our little cottage at Mabel’s. (approx. 5″x7″, these will be sent as a post card, through the USPS and so will have the look and feel of the original postcards that started us on this adventure in the first place.)
$150 level – All of the above!!!!
$500 level – Your choice of a one of a kind felted Edith (similar to 3dG and approximately the same size, about 4″ tall) OR an original sheep-themed watercolor, 8″x10″
Most of these rewards will be received by you, with my gratitude, during the month of January 2015. The Taos postcards will be posted from Taos- to you while I’m at my residency Jan 5-19. Felted Edith and original watercolors will be slightly longer in coming as they will be made to order.
Many thanks to you in advance for any support you have to lend. Financial support is of course wonderful, but do not discount how meaningful it is to receive comments on the blog here and over on my facebook page as well. I picture all of you in the stands waving colorful flags, and tossing handfuls of glitter and confetti into the breeze to keep things whimsical. The world needs whimsy, and imaginary animals who go on the adventures we dream up. Thanks so much for your help and encouragement!
~AHB (and GS & EE, too!!)
(Click this image or the one just like it over in the sidebar to the right to get started! Thanks!!!!)
*A note on crowd~funding: As this is, in the grand scheme, a small scale fund raising project, I opted to keep it grassroots. It is small enough for me to manage here and I decided not to engage Kickstarter or Indiegogo, as I might very well need to go that route to get these stories published into physical books one day soon. But we shall cross that bridge when we come to it. I plan to shop them around in old-school style a bit before opting to self-publish. Thanks again for your support!