There is a lovely and welcoming new gallery space situated right downtown where things are busy and fancy like. Some of us “urban sketcher” types have wrangled a few of our recent drawings into proper frames and are having a show. There is even an Opening.
Raw December day, wet, dripping with rain and fog. Last night’s few inches of snow turn to slush and mud. I opt for a day home sketching and drinking tea after a busy weekend of music-making, and other such peopling. I am deeply grateful for a flexible schedule.
The paints have been fairly ignored recently, my hands opting for other activities. I know this is simply my way and the paints do call again eventually.
I work diligently on a set of mittens, maybe a second set if there is time. Gifts of heart and hand.
Iris rests in the studio room with me, both of us vying for the space nearest the space-heater.
The house is cozy, with the season’s usual suspects tucked into their places, remembrances of years past.
The paints have indeed been calling, which is why I take to them for a few sketches today. I can always feel the tug when it begins. I see something that I want to interpret. A scene or a landscape featuring a special light of some sort perhaps. And I want to delve in. This often finds me disturbingly out of practice.
Yesterday, before the snow came, I attended an art-book fair. I found it refreshing to wander the stalls of fellow artists and see they are still keen on political disruption, unable to sit with the state of things, pretending this is all *normal*. It is not normal and it will “not always be like this”. I hope this is true.
On route to the fair, I noted the beauty of a pre-snow sky as the backdrop to our city skyline. Today, I sketch from memory.
My friend Kim and I spend the late afternoon and early evening talking about art and resistance and I am refreshed. She shares with me the story of artist Charlotte Salomon, about whom she’s been reading and who’s work exploded from her while evading Nazi capture (and sadly, other evils even closer to home). Her tale has more to it than I can even begin to portray here, and I have ordered the books from the library to dive deeper into it all. In the meantime, there are many articles about her available which I have been reading today. Here are just a few along with some of her images…..
The sheer scale of her making is almost unbelievable. I think about Charlotte painting as if her life depended on it, with urgency and desperation to tell her story before it was too late and I am glad the work survived at all. Indeed, this storied work may very well be the world’s first graphic novel as it is now called. I simply can’t get enough of looking at these paintings.
I think about other artists whose work has captivated my attention, not only for the caliber in the work itself, but for the stories behind the work. Artists like Edith Lake Wilkinson and Alice Schille, both of whom I have mentioned in previous posts here and there, and both of whom I have found inspiring for their art-making lives.
And through the lens of the work of these artists who’ve come before me in the Grand Arc of Art History, I think about my own work in the world. I think about how it continues to evolve, stretched between words and image making, between material studies and experimentation. How it is never comfortable, and when it is, it gets boring. I wonder how many women artists, like myself or others, have flown under the radar their entire working lives. Many more than we might possibly count I would wager.
So on this quiet day, here is where my head is. I mentioned to a friend of mine the other day how spacious this time without the demands and distractions of social media has felt. We laughed that it’s a bit like when as a stay at home mother, your children first go to school (or perhaps when they leave for college) and suddenly, there is room in your head to actually think deeply. We in this world do not spend enough time pondering, wondering, engaging in our own thinking, following the mindful breadcrumbs offered from the gods of creativity.
I wish for everyone to give themselves the gift of this space. I believe the world at large could sorely use some quiet time.
Fine Folk grace the pages of my sketchbook, along with wise words from the wisdom keepers I trust. I look to these wisdom keepers as beacons, following their light, as will-o-the-wisp….. into the darkness.
One such beacon, writer Robert Macfarlane, was featured in an interview with Krista Tippett of the program On Being. They discuss a recent book of his called Underland which is a gorgeous, lengthy tome; an exploration of the world beneath our feet as seen and sensed from a variety of angles. It’s the kind of book that deserves to be by one’s bedside to fill the mind with juicy and delicious language as a doorway into dreaming. This book apparently took Macfarlane 6 years to complete. He dipped into other projects along the way of course, but this one crept along, under everything else it would seem. It was worth the wait.
Underland explores a concept of Deep Time, one that is beyond human, but which can be tapped into by those of us with the proper notions to do so. If you have been reading my ideas here over the years, you know this is something I hold dear, this time-bending. I believe it is at the heart of the things we treasure as human beings. Good art, rich poetry, the ability to go beyond the day to day. To send our cultural tap roots down into the flow of All Things and perhaps channel something up. All of this of course takes time and practice. And there are no guarantees.
‘In verse, a pause in the rhythm of a line after a phrase; in choral work, a moment where singers might catch their breath.’
I really admire the depth of the work of writers such as Macfarlane, and I look to them for clues as to how to dig deeper into my own work. Art as well as writing. Even on social media channels, he and others like him make places like twitter and instagram into arenas of culture and idea-weaving. I aim to do the same, having curbed my own use of such channels into avenues of art and music. It’s a tricky balance in a world filled with instant sound-bytes and the next great and funny thing. Last week Macfarlane announced he will be off of twitter for a while with the word caesura and its definition.
I thought to myself, ‘I’d like to do that.’
The idea of taking a break from social media is by no means a new one, by myself or anyone else for that matter. There are books on digital detoxing which I have looked to when desperate for a break from it all. Lately, thankfully, I have not felt desperate to leave the online arenas of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I have them fairly well and carefully “curated” in order to see things which inspire me. New books to read, artists to research and learn something from, science to pique my curiosity and better my stewardship of my little part of the world. I choose when and how to get my “news” as that can be fraught with peril in this day and age. We must be careful what we feed ourselves, body and mind.
And yet, although not desperate to leave per se, I could use a break. What keeps me tethered to the usual channels is the business end of things. Usually, I am in marketing mode this time of year. Selling my classes to Taos and Guatemala. Hustling to show the world that yes, we go to beautiful places, have an amazing time together and make a bunch of gorgeous work. (WE DO!!!!! ) And this is all part of my job. But this year, I have been given a great gift….. My classes for 2020 are mostly sold out (there are two slots left in the second week of the Antigua offering. That’s it!) For once, I can relax a little bit. And so I am considering a break over the holidays.
If this idea comes to fruition, I’ll be off of twitter, facebook and instagram from Nov 29 – Jan 1.
I wonder sometimes, if I make something, or write something, but I don’t shout it into the void of the social media platforms, have I really created anything? This is the culture we are sold in this modern age. I would like to confront this culture, especially in my own mind. I’d like to follow some breadcrumbs of my own making just to see where they may lead. Without the pressure to report.
This will be an interesting experiment. I just began a weekly story idea which will continue to grow here, but folks will have to come find it, or wait until the New Year when I get back into the swing of things of sharing. Soon, I’ll be packing for Guatemala and sharing via instagram sun-kissed, color-washed images of our time in Antigua. It is in this way I beckon to future students to step into the sunshine with me and come on along!! But with the classes filled to brimming, and a lovely waitlist padded out for Taos, I feel I can take the social media break I’ve been craving for years, without having to crash and burn mentally to get it. It’s a good place to find myself.
So we shall see. It is always a balance. I may yet shift this plan into something less stringent. But I am always leaning toward trying a new tactic with regard to my presence in the online world. And for once I have the space to do so.
In other news…….
With Riley School out for break, I am back to sketching along with my mates in the Cincinnati Urban Sketchers. Last week we had a “boUrban sketchers” outing where we tasted bourbon at New Riff distillery. It was great fun!! Come along with us sometime!
I have a few paintings up at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center’s winter Collective show, EMERGE. This one below was the belle of the ball. I received many complements and offers to buy it. But alas, it was snatched up by a private collector just days before the show. I think the theme is one I’d like to explore further. The quietude of this piece seemed to speak to a number of people.
The other work on which I received a good bit of feedback is this little lovely, Bonny Hills, whose skies are filled with subtle color. This is a second theme I hope to explore further in more paintings in the new year. This one has not yet sold…. One of my fellow collective members said to me, I get the sense you were meant to be in Ireland. How right she is.
In the music arena, the Riley School of Irish music will present its annual holiday program Peace and Merriment, at 2 pm December 14. Our address is 2221 Slane Avenue in Cincinnati. Hope to see you there! We also play a weekly session out in town: 1st and 3rd Wednesdays we can be found at Ludlow Garage in Clifton, 2nd and 4th Tuesdays , Streetside Brewery on Eastern Avenue. Stop in and say hi!
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?
Ballybunion is a bustling seaside town in the summer, but it quiets down quite a bit in the ‘off season’, as many of the best places do. There is a sweet sign in the park which overlooks the ocean, reminding us not to take ourselves so seriously, something time spent at the beach can often do.
Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round, or listened to rain slapping the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight, or gazed at the sun fading into the night?
You better slow down, don’t dance so fast, time is short, the music won’t last.
Do you run through each day on the fly, when you ask “How are you?” do you hear the reply?
When the day is done, do you lie in your bed, with the next hundred chores running through your head?
You better slow down, don’t dance so fast, time is short, the music won’t last.
Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow and in your haste, not see his sorrow?
Ever lost touch, let a friendship die, cause you never had time to call and say hi?
You better slow down, don’t dance so fast, time is short, the music won’t last.
When you run so fast to get somewhere, you miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day, it’s like an unopened gift thrown away.
Life isn’t a race, so take it slower, hear the music before the song is over.
David L. Weatherford
There is nothing like the sea and time spent near it to calm the inner storms and frustrations which plague. Yesterday my companions and I drove out to Ballybunion and braved a bit of rain and wind to take in the fresh sea air. We were not disappointed.
After a lovely, misty wander up and down the beach, we walked back up to the village and warmed up by the fire with Guinness and Wine for some, tea for me. I am quite proud that I can drive here in Ireland and have thus far done fairly well.
This morning I opted to steal away before dawn for a few more source photos and merely more time by the sea. If I lived just 10 km down the road from this place, might be found there almost daily.
It rained nearly all the way from Listowel to Ballybunion but the clouds did eventually part and I was treated to a magnificent morning indeed.
As I walked and took pictures, I swept the beach for bits of plastic I might be able to pick up. There was more than I’d hoped for, but all in all it is such a clean beach. Still, we must do better.
There is such a sense of history layered upon history here in Ireland and there is no escaping it. There is the Renaissance era Ballybunion castle ruins which are so iconic, and the old escape hatches sometimes found niched into the cliffs that some say may have predated the castle and began in the Iron Age as food storage cellars. It’s fascinating! And I realize, we are only temporary.
Nature will, eventually, take everything back.
There shall be more here, but for now I must find my woolen socks and ready my camera as I am due to be picked up for a visit to the bog with our hosts here in Listowel. Taking in all I can, while I can.
ps, I am told that the way the woman in this video lives is very much like how my friends here grew up in the very cottage we stay in now, which has been updated with a few modern amenities…..
“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”
~ David Whyte*
*came across this quote via @lachanterie
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.
Recently, while in Colorado visiting one of the (not-so)Smalls, I got a text message from one of this year’s Taos sketch-workshop participants:
“I’m deeply grateful for the opportunities you’ve facilitated through your workshop. Amy, when you fling open the Juniper House doors and stir the creative pot of Mabel’s legacy, Magic happens. Unleashed into a space pulsing with anticipation, your energy swirls and settles around us in a joyful and gentle comfort. We’re home and we’re safe to explore, to express and to grow. My sketchbook is no longer a project. It’s now my friend. Thank you for leading this horse to water and showing me how to drink. I’ll never be thirsty again.”
~ Donna A.
I’ll admit I got a little teary-eyed. Here I was, back in the mountains and receiving this incredible gift of not just positive feedback, but real soul-bearing words about the experience of someone who’s been a recipient of my work in this world. It is my hope that anyone working in the world today might get the same gift. Thank you Donna!!!!
Normally, this time of year, I wouldn’t be even thinking of Taos much. Forging on ahead with the rest of my summer which is filled with the beauty of family time and musical nerdiness (where I get to be the student!!!). But this year, Taos has lingered. I find myself back there in my mind’s eye a little more often, making paintings, touching base with loved ones there, and looking ahead to next year……
The above little marketing video was made for 2014, but it’s still very valid and gives one a sense of what I’m up to in my workshops. The tone and feel of the thing, if you will…..
Today I got a message from a musical friend who’s partner has been dabbling in the paints a bit and he thinks perhaps she might like to come to Taos next year. And what are the dates? And is there space? So I figured I would quick post the answers to those questions in a little blog post.
Next year, 2020, marks 10 years teaching in Taos, New Mexico at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. The dates for the 2020 workshop are June 7-13. You can find more information here. (Prices, exact dates and what you can expect, etc)
If you are interested in going, here’s how it happens. September 1, 2019, I will send an email out to past participants who in this last year have expressed interest in next year’s trip. They have about a week to decide if they want to send in a deposit. September 6, I will announce open registration for any slots left.
As I take payment by check in the mail for deposits, I simply use the date of the email or message you send me to hold your slot verbally until your check arrives and we keep a wee list (the Hub calls it a spreadsheet) of the order of incoming requests for space in the class. As of this writing, I am holding the class in Taos to 16, but that could wiggle a bit depending upon interest. But I do like to keep it manageable and make sure everyone gets the one:one instruction in their books as needed.
Every new year is a bit special and certainly different from the years past. As I learn and grow, I bring that to the classroom in Taos. We try new ideas, we share what the world has brought to us in the year since we last met. It truly is – MAGIC – for lack of any better word. I have learned to trust it.
So. If you are interested in the class next summer, mark your calendars. Get on my “subscribe” list here on the website. That is the best way to get the announcements in a timely fashion. If the dates for Taos don’t suit your calendar, you can consider my trip to Antigua, Guatemala in late Feburary/early March of 2020. There are still 3 slots left in each week so far and those are likely to fill soon.
Thank you for your interest in exploring Taos, New Mexico with me, whether it’s been in past trips, or if you are only just considering coming along. There is truly no place like it.
Mabel welcomes us….
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 Foot that 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.
More on the Big Work at Swannanoa here:
For now, I bid you fare well, and I’ll see you in Maine…….
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.
There were many highlights….
After a class with nature journaling artist Kristin Meuser, (if you are ever in California, take a class from her! She’s lovely!) Rosemary and I headed to Berkeley where we met glass artist Alexis Berger, visited a lovely new shop called Etui, and gazed at magnificent fabrics at a place called Stone Mountain and Daughter Fabrics.
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.
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.
A word from Mabel…..
“One could really learn only by being, by awakening gradually to more and more consciousness, and consciousness is born and bred and developed in the whole body and not only the mind, where ideas about life isolate themselves and leave the heart and soul to lapse inert and fade away. Yet never to cease watching was imperative also; to be aware, to notice and observe, and to realize the form and color of all, the action and result of action, letting the substance create the picture out of abstract consciousness, being always oneself the actor and at the same time the observer, without whom no picture can exist.”
~Mabel Dodge Luhan
And from Mary:
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
Just a couple of days ago, I weathered a 20 hour (door to door) day of travel from Antigua, Guatemala back home here to Ohio to begin re-entry into my “real” life and to prepare for summer workshop season. This latest trip to Antigua has gotten it all started in fine fashion. Two weeks of facilitation and friendship; a welcoming of the Lenten season – even for the least religious among us; and a passport to spring.
Now home, I weather the chain saws and leaf blowers which mark the fair weather season in these parts and I wonder what could be made different in this world. I let these ponderings simmer on the back burner of my mind as I revisit what was, yet again, a life changing visit to a magical other-world.
Last I left you here I had arrived at the Posada a little heart-weary after a visit to my childhood home in Guatemala City. I am still sifting through that heavy luggage, but not without curiosity and joy that I have as much information and inclination as I do with regard to it all. It was, after all, a lifetime ago. What does it even matter? The words “make a book” keep coming around, though I have no idea how to go about it. So many great memoirs exist in the world. How does one even begin to make a semblance of a memoir with so few memories? But I continue to investigate. Perhaps living memories through the lens of a vivid imagination is enough. Guatemala is worth exploring, I do believe.
But first, THE WORK.
I crafted this sketch-journal trip to be one framed in intimacy and quietude. No big groups here. The goal being to come to a beautiful place, make some art, work at making it the best we can make it here and now – nothing more than that really. Beyond that goal, the rest was travel gravy. Each week there were 6 of us, (next year I’ll allow no more than 8 total – 6 participants at most) to allow for ease of movement about town as a group, ease of meal taking and decision making, to encourage a sense of deep work and seriousness of purpose. This approach worked beautifully and set such a lovely tone all around for both weeks. I marveled.
were fed by volcanoes
that fire milk
piercing the surface
pierces our facade
to get in
and feed our souls
One could spend the entire week with this series of arches on route to breakfast alone and not get bored with sketching.
The rooftop at Bella Vista Coffee Company is one of the best places to begin the day, and it has some of the best coffee the world has to offer.
We are greeted as friends, always.
Each day would see us tackling a new-to-us ruin in this gorgeous city, sketching and taking it all in along the way.
By afternoon we would work back at Posada San Sebastián, tidying up sketches we’d begun in the morning…
and perhaps capturing a bit of our home-away-from-home at the Posada as it’s filled with all sorts of sketchable fare……
I hope to make some proper paintings of the shifting light in the laundry area.
There was so much to see and take in and draw from and speak to and listen to and experience. Each day was filled to the brim with a special kind of magic only found in this amazing Unesco World Heritage city of Antigua, Guatemala.
A Sacred Season.
This year’s workshop abutted a very Holy Season indeed. That of Lent. In fact, at the end of the trip, Rosemary and I stole away in the wee hours of the morning of Palm Sunday. Otherwise there might have been no escape. For Lent is a busy time in Antigua.
Some days the incense was near stifling. Reminiscent of growing up old-school Catholic, it was at once, unsettling and nostalgic.
Carrying Mary. It’s heavy work to bear the feminine through a distinctly male-dominated culture. But Mary prevails. As does the strength of the women of Guatemala.
The locals weren’t the only ones feeling a sense of the season. …
“I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.”
“I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.” ~Mary Oliver
Next year we hope not to be quite so close to Easter. (Stay tuned. I am announcing the dates for 2020 to those who’ve been on the trip up to now and who’ve expressed interest even before that….. I’ll open it further soon to others but I expect it all to fill quite quickly if this year was any indication.)
Though I’ll admit it is thrilling to be near this level of faith.
And so, here we are now, at the height of spring in Ohio, making lists and travel plans for my California Trip in May (contact me for details if you are interested) and the Taos based workshop in June (now full!), which is my flagship class and holds a truly special place in my heart.
This time of year always has me feeling a bit tossed about in the world. I am not a speedboat in this modern world, but more of an old fashioned ocean liner of sorts. It takes me some time to shift gears and change course of direction. But I manage to get there in the end.
If you are curious to see more of my own work from our time in Antigua, head over to my Instagram. There is plenty there. I aim to keep working from source photos as well. Sketching my way through misty memories of a tumultuous time and of course from more recent times as well, a tad less tumultous.
Seems the best way.
PS. There is a gorgeous telling of week one over on the blog-space of artist, printmaker, photographer and no-longer-practicing bear biologist (she has amazing stories fit for a proper campfire) of Vanessa Sorensen of Nessy Designs. I adore her work, words and over all being really. Thank you Vanessa for this lovely post: http://nessydesigns.blogspot.com/2019/04/guatemala-sketchbook-workshop-2019.html
Do go visit her website and blog. It’s a treasure to behold.