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.
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.
It is travel season. I am recently returned from California and while away, my studio window robins hatched and grew.
Mere seconds after this photo was snapped, this last one fledged. It’s a bit like life itself. How fast they grow. Though our fledglings double back on occasion and for this we are grateful.
California was rewarding in her splendor as always, but had a few weather related tricks up her sleeve which complicated things for my workshop days. That said, I packed in a lot in just a short time, both as a traveling artist and as a teacher.
We had an appointment to meet watercolor maker Amanda Hinton of Limn Watercolors where we got to see how her fabulous paints are made from scratch. It’s a fascinating brand of magic she does and we were smitten with all the colors. And with Amanda herself.
Limn colors do the usual fun stuff watercolors are known for, like mixing beautifully and replicating stained glass with their translucency, but some of her colors can separate and bloom in evocative ways that we have found enchanting. I have a whole row of her colors in my paint set now which afford me abilities I’ve not had in the past.
It was great fun to try and buy a few new colors to add to our collection and I am so thankful to Amanda for her time and warm welcome.
Also in Berkeley was a wonderful creative re-use arts supply store and the amazing Burma Superstar restaurant. We even managed to stop into California Typewriter, of documentary fame…..
We were warmly welcomed by Ken and Herb and enjoyed looking at the machines currently in store there.
All in all it was a perfect, busy, sunny California day.
The sunny bit was not to continue. Alas, the weekend forecast was wet. wet. wet. So we worked indoors with exercises students will be able to take out of doors on their own at a later time. Not ideal, but neither is sketching and teaching in the rain. We were at least cosy.
There is plenty to draw in the home of an interesting, artistic friend. Here’s a small demo drawing of a wee humbled Buddha I did for the workshop.
The following days were to see us dodging rain drops to capture the wild water on the coastline.
Again, not ideal, but we managed. Day two of workshops was moved by one day for those available to make it, and we did manage a few hours of sunlight between rainstorms on our day of working together. We also managed a few more sketches.
Painting at the sea side is by far one of my favorite things. I am often torn between the desire to simply sit and stare at the shifting light and color of the ocean and to capture it in my sketch book. This feeling is magnified by the limited time I always have by the sea.
I find myself wondering why I do not live nearer to big water.
Somewhere where I might take my blue art van and wander down the lane to the sea shore for a few hours to sketch and stare….. maybe daily.
Suffice it to say, time in Santa Cruz is never enough time. In the same way that time at Ballybunion Beach is never enough. Or time on Monhegan is never enough. Alas. Time marches on…..
Next up is an ocean of a different kind. An ocean of sage. In just two weeks’ time I’ll be back in New Mexico for my flagship travel journaling course at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House once again. Every year is a gift and I am thrilled to be heading back.
The weather seems like it might be more cooperative in Taos than in California, even leaning more cool than in recent years. We shall see. But at the very least, sunshine, New Mexico style.
My studio is less a place of making just now and more a place of packing and preparations.
The art van, of course, at the ready. A new sweater for the (hopefully) cool Taos nights, and maybe a friend or two along for company.
Swag is being readied.
I consider what art supplies to bring for my own making, while making sure that I have all the extras for the workshop participants as well.
It can make one’s head spin to be sure. But the paint set is clean (after being dusted quite heavily by volcanic ash in Guatemala and a grain or two of sand in Santa Cruz) and refilled (note the lovely middle line of mostly Limn colors!!)
I have a few new pencils to try, including a light blue one suggested by Kristin Meuser during her workshop and a couple of Blackwing pencils all the rage with my illustrator friends.
All of it tucks away into the little van, along with a book or two to draw and paint in. It’s all quite compact actually.
This year I have made the decision to simplify my packing process for the Taos trip. I am only bringing a few of my current books, not a box full of past years’ books like I do normally. And instead of bringing yet another box full of published books for people to peruse, I will bring a list of said books to share with my students so they can explore when they get home via bookstore and library. We will instead focus on the work at hand. It’s a strange shift, but I feel good about it.
It’s easy to look at the wonderful empty classroom at Mabel’s and feel like we need to fill it with things other than ourselves and our small packs of art supplies. This is especially the case for me as facilitator. But this is not true. That room fills with laughter and conversation and the joy of working into the wee hours on sketches begun earlier in the day. WE fill the room. WE are enough, with just our supplies on hand.
I am so excited to get back to Taos where this whole traveling-art thing began for me so many years ago. Every year is different, and yet there is the lovely familiarity to lean into as well. I am open to what I have to learn there year after year and am grateful for the opportunity to go back once again.
“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.”
It is winter in Ohio. Today, at least, we have some sunshine and some not so bitter temperatures. I will go outside with a dog in a bit to attempt to shake some of the doldrums nipping at my heels just now. A heaviness borne of annoyances mostly. Demands of the season and the length of daily darkness have ground me down in recent weeks. I know this will pass. I look forward to Solstice next week and keep my soul facing the light as best I can, while making friends with the dark as needed.
Gifts are being crafted, alighting to celebrate the return of longer days. Although it will be a good many weeks before we see the changes and shifts properly, our hearts know – and sometimes that is enough to lighten the spirit.
Last weekend there was a concert – a sharing of musical gifts in the form of our annual Peace and Merriment concert at the Riley School. Our hearts were lightened by an afternoon of tunes and a few stories by our Master of Ceremonies, who is also my flute instructor, John.
All things seasonal are underway….
Sharing light with the world,
I have lists made of gifts to gather for the kids in my life, most of whom like books, even the older ones. Perhaps we can be like Icelandic revelers and lie around reading all day on Christmas! As for the adults, we all seem to feel a distinct pulling away from the “stuff” of it all, opting more for subscriptions, memberships, classes – “things” which aren’t things and which brighten the experience of simply being human.
Perhaps you know someone close to you who feels similarly. Perhaps this someone is feeling the darkness of winter, (which even on the brightest of winter days has a muted spectrum of color). Perhaps, they might like to look forward to more light and color in the not-so-distant future.
Registration for my travel journal workshops in Taos, New Mexico and Antigua, Guatemala are officially open and Taos is nearing capacity (yay!). Antigua, being international and a newer offering, still has a few spaces left in each of the two weeks available (click the link for details!)
I can’t say enough about what a dose of vivid color and warm air can do for one’s soul and body after a long winter and I find myself looking very forward indeed to the spring trip to Antigua in particular.
And the coffee. You simply wouldn’t believe the coffee…
Our classroom is in the form of where ever we find ourselves each day, from rooftops to ruins.
We immerse in culture through some shopping and exchange of language.
Through it all we gather it all into a travel journal.
While I encourage the use of cameras and smart-phones to capture “source photos” for later work, there is simply no better way to really soak into a place than through the lens of a travel journal. Merely taking the time to draw something, perhaps even multiple times, creates a broader understanding of place. A broader understanding of our place in the All of Everything. This can be difficult to pin down in our hectic world. By cataloguing a travel experience in a little book, our travels are enhanced and brought to life in a new and richer way.
We notice the little things…..
….while standing in awe of the bigger things as well.
We immerse in the day to day of Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which holds beauty, color and light at every turn.
There are a million different yellows….
Pinks as well.
Blues and greens are well represented.
Our palette here is bright and beautiful and I help you figure out how to recreate these vibrant hues on the pages of your journal with a simple set of watercolors.
As the end of the year draws nigh, with one major gift giving holiday behind us (gosh Hanukkah was early this year!!) and another too close for comfort, consider the gift of one of my workshops. This might be a gift for a loved one or friend, or simply, and perhaps most importantly, to yourself, setting the tone for 2019 to be filled with close attention paid to beauty, light and color.
This is a world gone mad. Too many things to take in, too much heartache for a body to navigate really. The things I love which carry me into the gentle places of my soul and self and which keep me grounded when the winds do blow have suffered for lack of care. I look at this little home of mine here on the interwebs and realize that it’s been since August that I’ve written. It is not as if I have not written, or drawn, or painted in general. Just not here, where even when no one is reading, it matters most.
Today I took to the woods with one of our trusty dogs, the one and only wild Iris Rose, to ponder a plan of how to negotiate the dangerous waters of our time in a sustainable balanced manner. It is October, my most favorite month of the year. I adore autumn and all it has to offer in the way of cooler temperatures, misty mornings and the desire to get the knitting needles clicking once more….
We admired the colors signaling a late but welcome change of season….
I played a bit with my fancy camera which, like this blog space, has grown a bit dusty with disuse.
The pace of things in the world has me feeling a bit weary. All this running and seemingly little to show for it. The season and my soul alike beg for a backing off, a swing toward the internal to come once more to the still point of my personal center. This country, and the world at large could stand the same I believe.
With the dark season ahead, one often fraught with personal mental health challenges, I am looking back with pride on a few months of wondrous productivity and activity whilst simultaneously crafting a structure of future quietude to keep the wolves at bay in the months ahead.
The Resistance, as it stands, is in full swing and its toiling does take up space and energy. I quite mindfully make the space necessary to be of service in these dark times but must balance that of course. There is canvassing and volunteering and much reading to stay informed. The news is too much to keep up with and it can drag a soul down to low places, but I do my best. I am careful to turn it all off and hit the paints or the road when I need a break.
The flurry of work and words in the past couple of months have been exciting to birth forth. Here I share a few things that have been occupying my eye, my keyboard and notebook, my interest and my heart. It is my hope that I take to engaging more here in this space in the coming months as it forces me, in the best way possible, to slow down. To think about what I am writing and the images I share. Social media channels are wondrous in their own way, and I certainly find myself lurking in the more creative corners of their hallowed halls. There is so much to inspire. But here, in my own designated space, I can think through my fingers….
“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”
….and maybe go a little deeper.
So, last I left you dear reader, it was August, and so very hot. September came along and while the heat gave no break, I encountered a small challenge to make a drawing a day in 1″ square scale. This painterly adventure, combined with a whirlwind trip to Taos, NM was balm indeed to a tired soul….
I completed the challenge and made 30 of these little works.
Even when the news did say there were magnificent displays of ill will and malevolence.
Toward the end of the month of September, my long time, dear friend Kristin (whom you may remember from this post) and I somehow managed to make our way from Ohio (me) and Vermont (she) to Chicago for a seamless meet-up at O’Hare and on to a quick flight out to New Mexico. The opportunity to introduce a dear one to one’s soul home is a gift indeed and we savored every second. Not much was catalogued of our time there, but we did manage some image captures…..
“It’s the most wonderful place you can imagine. It’s so beautiful there. It’s ridiculous.” ~Georgia O’Keeffe
We timed our visit with the Feast of San Geronimo at Taos Pueblo (every year on September 30th, you should go) which enabled me to see and visit with some dear friends there at a very sacred time. It was a gift and blessing to share these folks and this place who are so dear to me, with an old friend from the way back, equally as dear. Kristin said to me at one point, “You’ve built a whole world here, Ames.” I do believe I have. I am deeply grateful.
Our journey was far too short for a proper catch up. To be honest, in spite of the splendor we encountered, we spent a good deal of time in a state of deep grief over the recent goings on at the Supreme Court. There is a collective, primal scream of rage emanating from the women in my life over doing this all over again. How many times has this story been lived, eh? Though this time is was so public, and so top-level. I am still grieving.
But, and this is the thing, somehow we must keep going……..
And so, once home, early autumn life began with a focus toward music each weekend at the Riley School of Irish Music. Those of us who love the music aim to bring just a smidge of this video below to our own playing….
While we may never reach this level, we did manage to play our annual ceili dance once more and folks who attended seemed to enjoy it. Chatting with our caller, Éamonn de Cógáin after the dance, he remarked, “This is growing!!” And indeed it is.
The season brings with it, as mentioned before, a renewed commitment to new needle bound adventures. I’ve invested in some gorgeous wool from my local knit shop to attempt the crafting of a sweater. We shall see…. But in the meantime, it’s always fun to get to know the source of all things wool.
And maybe even attempt a sketch or two.
Perhaps you too are experiencing a bit of whiplash of the soul. One minute darkness and rage – the next minute, a shaft of light to pierce that darkness and provide a respite. We here are fortunate to have these moments of lightness. To make art and craft worlds with words is a privilege indeed, and one I do not take for granted. I believe to my core that it is an act of resistance to play music, and craft beauty with line, paint and words. I am fortunate to have the support of family and my day job that enable me to live this artful life. Not everyone can. Yet somehow, artists get the job done, one way or another. Here are just a few whom I support and so should you…..
And so where does this all leave me? As you can see, there’s been a great deal of output here in the form of energy and a good bit of intake as well which is wonderful. But my hope is that I can slow it all down a bit. To corral things to more depth and to a more manageable realm for me as an artist. I like to say that I am a crock pot in this world of microwaves.
My hub and I are running away a couple of days after the election to Guatemala to visit friends and make some art – to shore up our souls for what’s to come in our lives personally and collectively, good or ill.
We will get home just before Thanksgiving (yes, I’ve ordered the bird from our favorite market vendor.) I plan to write here on this blog-space from down there if I can connect, as it’s one of the most inspiring places. So do stay tuned.
Wherever this reading finds you, I hope you are finding some gentility in this rough world. We are at a crossroads as human beings and we have some decisions to make as to the path ahead. For me, it’s one of kindness and art making.
“Hang in there, make art, be kind.” ~Neil Gaiman in response to the news of Brazil’s election of a nationalist, right wing president. To my friends in Brazil, we are here for you.
“I travel a lot. I hate having my life disrupted by routine.” ~Caskie Stinnett
A temptuous siren’s call beckons from the open road. Once again, I comb maps of places yet to be explored, finalizing flight paths, formulating rail patterns and charting the wheeled paths where travels may take me this season. It’s once again workshop season.
Second only to sitting absorbed in my own book and box of colors while on the road is my love of teaching the Art of Keeping An Illuminated Travel Journal to students who range from intrepid beginners to like-minded artists already brimming with their own artistic tricks of the trade. There is truly no wrong way to capture one’s travel adventures. For some folks, merely snapping a photo with a cell phone or even a proper camera might be enough of a record of time and experience. But for many many others, a new trend of mindful travel is all the fashion these days.
Our world spins madly on at hyper speed. Many of us look for ways to slow it all down. To step off of this merry-go-round – to hit the reset button and come back once again into our physical bodies. Travel is one way to do this of course, but if we are not careful, we may find ourselves careening through our travel experiences at the same breakneck speed we do the rest of our lives. A travel journal is one such way to ever-so-gently pull the reins back a bit on time itself.
As an artist, I have dwelled in the world with a sketchbook of some sort or other tucked under my arm or in my knapsack since before I can remember. But one doesn’t need to self-identify as an artist to experience the magic of a little book and a box of watercolors. While spring drags its heels here in the midwest, travel season must surely be on its way eventually, yes? As we plot and dream of summerly adventurings, my friend and fellow creative spirit Margot Madison, Empress Queen Bee of Creative Juice asked if I might have a few suggestions related to the art of keeping a travel sketch journal. Not able to contain this amazing practice, I opted to put together a blog post here which might give folks a taste of what I do and teach along with heaps of links and ideas to get you started.
What you need:
Not much really. A book, something to draw with and a little set of watercolors. For the book, opt for something not too cumbersome. Stillman And Birn have lovely books in all shapes and sizes. The Alpha Series features good paper which can take a watercolor sketch without falling apart. Moleskin books are also classically wonderful to work in, just make certain to obtain one with watercolor paper.
For drawing, I like both pens and pencils, depending on how I am working. Nothing fancy necessary in the pencil department, though mechanical pencils are nice to have on hand. Recently I have taken to using fountain pens for ink drawing as I was tired of the waste of an empty marker heading to the landfill. Artist Liz Steel has some lovely ideas and suggestions on which pens and inks to try, but my current favorites are the Eco-pen with Noodler’s Bulletproof inks.
Next you’ll want to choose a watercolor set. Over the years, I have steered students toward the Winsor and Newton field sketching sets and they have held up over time. There are countless options out there to be had from the world renowned Schmincke brand to handcrafted ones from Greenleaf and Blueberry out of Colorado.
Tuck all of these new found treasures into a comfortable little bag or backpack along with a container of water, a cloth for blotting and you are ready to Go Forth And Doodle! If you are to be out in the sun, consider a sunhat and glasses, and maybe a little portable chair if need be. (Though I find that most beautiful places tend to have a bench or two.)
But “I can’t draw a straight line”, you say. Well, first off, straight lines are overrated. Drawing and painting is more about learning how to really see than anything else. A wonderful, playful way to settle into a new place and to get your eyes seeing in vivid color, without the pressure of ‘making something’ is to make little color swatches.
This is a wonderful way to get to know your watercolors, and learn about mixing colors to capture what you see. The first place I saw this exercise is in the lovely work of Sara Midda. Her book South of France, A Sketchbook’, is a favorite of mine and serves as a lovely example of how some simple colors can really give one a sense of place.
You’ll find that every place has it’s own distinct and sometimes quite subtle color palette. Simply beginning with swatches will get you working into a blank page.
Mapping out a Place.
I adore maps of all kinds. You can paste a small map of a place in your book, or perhaps create one of your own which speaks to where you’ve been along your own route.
They Draw and Travel has wonderful examples of playful ways to map a new place as well as creative usage of text to light up a journal page. Below is a page from a student of mine. Notice how she painted the letter ‘T’ which really highlights her drawing from Taos New Mexico!
Another creative way to incorporate text into your capture of a place is to stop into the local post office for a postal stamp. Often state and national parks will have site specific stamps on hand to play with as well.
But wait, I’m still not drawing anything!
No worries! You’ve already begun to ‘mess up’ your journal with these beginning exercises. And this is key to sidestepping one’s inner critic who is so hasty to make commentary on your efforts. Besides maps and swatches and stamps, keep an eye out for ephemera from your journey. Ticket stubs and business cards can be pasted into your journal as a reminder of where you’ve been and what you saw along the way. Perhaps you might begin to tuck in a quick sketch in and around these found objects….
There is a veritable feast of resources both locally and online that can get you actually drawing. Artists like Danny Gregory and his Sketch Skool project, Dan Price’s little tome How to Make a Journal of Your Life, and the local chapter of Urban Sketchers are all great places to pick up ideas about drawing or even take a workshop. That said, there is no greater way to learn to draw than to just sit and draw. That may sound tremendously daunting. But every drawing you make, “bad” or “good”, you will learn something which you will then apply to the next drawing. Drawing is exercise. Drawing is mindfulness. When we sit down and really see something for what it is, in this place, at this very moment, we are in communion with that thing, in this place, at this time.
One great exercise is that of the ‘blind contour’ drawing. Sit in front of what you would like to doodle, look at it for a few moments. Allow your eyes to look at the lines that make up what is in front of you. Now, place your pen or pencil to paper and without looking at the paper, run the pencil around the contours of what you are drawing.
This process is good to utilize, even if you are ‘looking’ at your drawing because it tends to keep drawings loose and scribbly.
In the end, whether your travels are taking your far a field this season, or perhaps merely exploring your own back yard, or watching the kids splash about at the local watering hole, a travel journal is a wonderful way to catalog and capture these fleeting moments.
This week I am off to California to guide a new group of sketchers onto this mindful path of gathering experience. Shortly after that I’ll be back in New Mexico for my flagship class in Taos. If you are interested in joining me for a workshop, consider Antigua, Guatemala next April (I’ll be offering 2 separate weeks back to back!) or perhaps Taos next June. Or just dredge up the courage to join your local Urban Sketchers. I can promise you they are a wonderful, welcoming group of people and you’ll learn a lot just by doing!