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.
A new sweater is on the needles. A pattern whose imagery captured my heart and so I have wrestled it onto some needles, cartwheeling through heavy mathematical calculations to get a proper gauge to suit the finished garment. My gauge is, as of yet, thoroughly on pointe, yet I find myself worrying that the fit won’t be right and I’ll be living the knitter’s adage of auld….
“As ye knit, so shall ye rip.”
We shall see. Should the gauge survive my still early-intermediate skills in both crafting cloth and manipulating patterns, and I find myself in the ball park for fit, I will eventually block this new sweater. An old friend of mine who was an inspiration to me years ago in knitting, art making and living life in general, explained to me that blocking is essentially the notion of “teaching a sweater to be a sweater, or a tam to be a tam, once it’s knit up.” I have resigned myself to possibly ripping back hours of work on this new sweater as I have invested a good deal of effort into choosing material I love and I want the end product to be as close to just right as I can make it.
Time will tell.
I share all of this with you just now because I’ve been thinking a lot about blocking, but in a different way. More the idea of blocking time. One great gift of this recent trip to Antigua and Lake Atitlan in Guatemala was that we were able to slow down to a more human-animal centered way of spending our time.
We sketched a good bit, my hub plowing through his sketchbook much more diligently than myself. And we admired the color and beauty all around us. Guatemala as a country is not without its troubles to be sure, but Antigua is fairly cosmopolitan and has a robust tourism industry and so we were encouraged to relax a bit….
Which we did, whilst resting from our country’s tendency toward the rat race of humanity.
I shall comb through the colorful photos and impressions of our time in Antigua and at the Lake in a later post but for today I want to share the big take-away. Time. And the managing of it.
Upon returning home, we jumped back into the rat race, hosting our extended family’s Thanksgiving celebration and getting back to work. I have the great luxury of a part time job with flexible hours. Provided I do the work I need to do to get our instruments out in a timely manner, I can come and go as I please. This generally works out wonderfully but in recent months I’ve found myself spending inordinate amounts of time in the car stuck in traffic. There are construction projects and more people in general in our area. And as anyone with any sizable commute can tell you, traffic is the Devil’s way of sucking one’s soul out, one slow mile at a time.
I decided that I would attempt to begin to block my time more efficiently, working longer days at the shop, then spending extended hours at home in the studio – painting, writing or doing the administrative duties and marketing to support the workshops. This is week one. And so far so good.
I’ve been attempting to wake more early to get some thinking and writing done before I leave the house and the day gets away from me. I’ve begun to change the direction of the little bits coming at me reckless, faster and faster, attempting to fit them in properly. (Hence the Tetris reference at the top of the post.)
As a list maker, this is working, but I must take care not to fall into the trap of “trying to get it all done.” There is a wonderful podcast called “Hurry Slowly” in which host Jocelyn K. Glie discusses with writers and thinkers of our time all the things which make the trappings of modernity tricky territory. In a recent mini-episode she asks:
“Who are you without the doing?” ~Jocelyn K. Glei
I’ll admit this question stopped me in my tracks. I, like so many others, am trying to make a good painting, write something inspiring on this blog, earn a bit of money through art, teaching, or work at the shop. I try to be a good parent, a good friend, a good daughter and wife and etc. etc. But who am I, when all of this falls away? Who are you?
Middle age is fraught with existential landmines and I’m happy that I am currently in a pretty decent state in that department. But I strive to prepare myself for the ultimate journey to the ultimate far away place through contemplation of things that are beyond the day to day, and yet which rely upon and incorporate those very things at the same time.
We are afforded only so much time to take it all in in this world of ours.
The gods do blow the winds of time in mysterious ways – we are left to ponder our options when we land.
I for one will keep tweaking my earthly approach, likening it to the old game of Tetris, which frankly is the best life metaphor. Even if it’s most stressful music to listen to.
ps. I worked at painting a bit today, limiting myself to three colors and attempting to make something from there. It was a horrid failure. But even the worst painting days teach us something and maybe next time I will use a different version of the three colors and see what happens. How are you spending your time? I am off to knit on the sweater about which I am not so sure……. more soon.
pps. a number of spaces are open for both the Guatemala and Taos based travel-sketchjournal trips (but not that many!) do come along!!
We are met in Guatemala City by our trusty driver Pablo and are whisked away from the big city to Antigua where Posada San Sebastian awaits us as our home away from home. We stash our things and wander for a cup of coffee (first of many) as our lodging isn’t quite ready for our weary heads. We wander the quiet town as it awakens to an average work day- shops opening, my favorite coffee place too, Bella Vista, and we some how make it until our room is ready and we can nap .
The Posada is bustling but calm and we sleep soundly until well after lunch hour. This is the price we pay for an overnight flight. With more awake minds and bodies we spend some time with our sketchbooks . I’m well over due for it and feeling rusty but I manage.
After a while we are famished for a late lunch/early dinner so we head out to town for some local fare.
It’s delicious and there is even a strolling minstrel who sings to the diners. It is a magical meal. One of many to be sure .
We wander a bit more, acclimating, looking into the shops, greeting the greeters outside of all of the establishments .
Upon our return, the sun is setting with much fanfare.
We are delighted by this, and even Fuego itself gives us a small (non-catostrophic) belching light show of lava in the distance .
Though We are weary, we eagerly await the arrival of our fellow travelers with whom we will share the coming days .
More soon, provided we have continued connectivity.
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.
For my friends out west, there is also a weekend sketch workshop with me in the Santa Cruz area slated for May 18 and 19, 2019. Send me an email if you are interested!! (linked is my post about this year’s trip, which was wonderful!)
And below, I’ll catch you up a bit on the landing home after a most wonderful summer……
The future is indeed very bright around here. We ‘gotta wear shades’ as they say. This magical gypsy summer of serious traveling has left me feeling newly and deeply inspired, even unmoored and untethered at times. Summer is always a a season of churning and resetting, but this year these feelings are exceptionally poignant and rich. I’ve had so much time to think about things, what with all the flying and driving and waiting and watching along the way from place to place to place.
A bit of art was crafted here and there while on the road, but mostly I found myself in a place of keen inner observation, a bird’s eye viewing of the self just now and the work currently at hand.
This summer I pondered a great deal about what in the world I am up to in this artful life (age appropriate behavior, as I just turned 49 the other day!!). So many proverbially spinning plates all going at once, and there’s me, the mad, rushing spinner, jumping from thing to thing, spin, spin, spin, lest it all come crashing down around me. At least, that is how it feels some days. On other days, the balance of things settles deeply into my heart and I just know I am on the right track, in spite of all the wobbly plates.
“Balance. It was all about balance. That had been one of the first things that she had learned: the centre of the seesaw has neither up nor down, but upness and downness flow through it while it remains unmoved. You had to be the centre of the seesaw so the pain flowed through you, not into you. It was very hard. But she could do it!”
― Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight
Recently, I was listening to a lovely chat between Krista Tippet and Liz Gilbert on the nature of creativity and the notion of choosing curiosity over fear. (I like this notion a lot.) There are many quotable gems throughout this interview and I highly recommend you take a listen to the unedited version of it. There was one small thing though that made me stop the recording at one point and run for the journal to write it down. Gilbert was talking of an inspirational favorite poet of hers called Jack Gilbert (no relation) who was described by his students at one point as being a teacher who –
“didn’t necessarily teach us so much HOW to write a poem, but rather WHY to write a poem.”
This statement stopped me in my tracks. In some strange way, this philosophical shift encapsulates the work I do with travel journaling in my own workshops. Yes, of course we do a bit of Drawing 101, and Basic Use of Watercolors, and etc. But more importantly, we work together to get to the whyof it all. Why even bother to draw or paint or capture quotes in a little book which no one besides our patient loved ones will ever see?
Somehow, through the experiences shared as fellow artists, we distill these notions into the inspiration to do the work and figure out why along the way. It is all about enchantment.
And so, while I do teach the how-toalong with my fellow sketchers locally, my heart of hearts is invested in the why of it all, which is at the core of my travel based workshops.
Coming to this realization has helped me connect the dots a bit in the work that I do. How the practice of local “Urban Sketching” might relate to and feed my passion for making anthropomorphic illustrations of animals having people-like adventures. How these illustrations might also be “serious” enough to feed the fine-art branch of my artistic interests (i.e., paintings, sans hamsters). How the fiber-based arts of embroidery and knitting might serve as idea-hatching meditations (whilst on the surface they may look like netflix-binging in my pajamas). And how all of these varied practices might actually come together to make the workshops I teach quite different than others because they come from a very unique place, me.
And now here it is, not even the end of August, and I am already a feeling a little less angsty about work. A bit more centered in forging forward in all of it, varied though it may be. I am excited to have the dates and costs set for 2019’s offerings so get those checks in the mail lads!!
It feels good to be back home in this ol’ river valley of ours for a couple of months before the need to escape it all once more overtakes me and I hit the road again.
But for now, I am settled in my little nest, catching up on work at the shop, drawing and painting and writing every day possible and trusting that all will be well.
ps. Many of you have been asking when an Ireland based workshop might happen. As of this writing, the right place has not quite found me yet. And place is important. We’d need a home base, something with space for us to live while we work (lodging AND classroom space); a place which has available local meal-catering options we could hire in if needed, walkability to a local village (because, MUSIC!) and preferably near the sea. If you have any places on the emerald Isle to suggest, do let me know! In the meantime, I plan to get back to Ireland on me own via artist’s residencies and visits to friends when at all possible. I’ll keep you posted!
In a mere week’s time I fly west once more for my annual trip to Taos NM. Much of the rhythm of things here at home just now is akin to years past. I work diligently at Day Job to get my little to do list settled. No one wants to be the bottleneck there. I stack the specially made instrument cases, one by one, and polish ever so many little silver and brass buttons and other necessary miniscule sundries for these lovely instruments we craft day to day. It’s great fun, actually. I am deeply grateful for a “job” which affords me the temporal freedom to make my own hours and simply do the work on my list, which in turn affords me artistic freedom to run my workshops and when possible, make some art as well.
As is often the case when I am up to my gills in to-do lists and packing lists and my mind is aflutter with all the earthly materialistic concerns in preparation for a lengthy journey, I feel called to crawl into a box of paints and swim amidst the colors there, creating my own less complicated world on canvas.
This is my brain on overwhelm.
A dear friend who knows me well sends along a timely NYT article about some less well-known art work on display just now by Georgia O’Keeffe. I lose myself in the world of her paintings. Perhaps I can find the time to bust out some oil paints to settle my soul before leaving.
Are we having the time of our life?
Are we having the time of our lives?
Are we coming across clear?
Are we coming across fine?
Are we part of the plan here?
Are we having the time of our lives?
Are we coming across clear?
Are we coming across fine?
Are we having the time of our lives?
Are we part of the plan here?
We have the driver and time on our hands
One little room and the biggest of plans
The days were shaping up, frosty and bright
Perfect weather to fly, perfect weather to fly
Pounding the streets where my father’s feet still
Ring from the walls, we’d sing in the doorways or bicker and row
Just figuring how we were wired inside
Perfect weather to fly
So in looking to stray from the line
We decided instead we should pull out the thread
That was stitching us into this tapestry vile
And why wouldn’t you try? Perfect weather to fly
We have the driver and time on our hands
One little room and the biggest of plans
The days were shaping up, frosty and bright
Perfect weather to fly, perfect weather to fly
Pounding the streets where my father’s feet still
Ring from the walls, we’d sing in the doorways, or bicker and row
Just figuring how we were wired inside
Perfect weather to fly
So in looking to stray from the line
We decided instead we should pull out the thread
That was stitching us into this tapestry vile
And why wouldn’t you try? Perfect weather to fly
All work and no play makes us dull does it not? And so on a stunningly gorgeous Ohio afternoon in May, a few of us from the shop take advantage of the perfect weather and head into the skies with our employer Wally, who also happens to be an airplane pilot.
We call this “team-building.”
Soon, we are in the air. For a brief moment, I hold onto the throttle as Wally captures a most awesome snapshot.
Perhaps next time up I will brave the loop-the-loop style acrobatics, but for me, for now, merely being aloft is enough adventure this first time flying in the open air.
Justin on the other hand is built of more courageous stock and eventually opts for all the tricks. Bravo Justin!
It is a fine day indeed and we all feel settled, calm and above the fray after flying. Much like I do after a successful day swimming in the paint box or following a drawing to see where it leads.
One day, I follow a raven on the page…..
Which turns into a little carving with a message….
Having flown, I feel bird like and am reminded that each bird offers something different in the way of inspiration. If one listens carefully, one might pick up a bit of the conversation….
“sketch, sketch, sketch.”
I attempt to translate a bit of what I hear in their chatter, and eventually make a little poem of sorts.
Pencil bags result and I am happy with them. I am thankful to speak a bit of Raven.
As time marches on, the stuff of life seems to have no regard for things on my to-do list. And so we attend an opera our son Jack plays in at Queen City Opera House. It is entitled Iolanta and the music is by Tchaikovsky. We enjoy it immensely.
We also journey into nameless far-flung corn-fields toward mid-ohio to visit a newly arrived niece called Flossie.
She is still quite small and ever so lovely.
Her parents are mushroom enthusiasts and so we wander into their woodland for a peek at what might be afoot on the forest floor….
Something about this day away from the city hits a bit of a reset button for us. Everything slows into stillness and quietude. We deeply appreciate our niece and her growing family. Their approach to life in general and enthusiasm for the natural world is infectious and we find ourselves hopeful for the world at large for a change. News headlines be damned for a day.
Like a slingshot or bow and arrow, I pull back, near ready to launch into summer’s travels. Yet, at the same time, sink my toes into this fertile valley here so as not to forget what treasures lie here at home. I’ll be writing from the road whenever possible, opting for merely the i-phone camera and tablet device as blogging tools. We shall see how it goes. In between times though, you can usually reach me over on Instagram or Twitter. Do stay in touch. I’d love to know what magic is shaping up in your summer. Whether far afield, or closer to home. Safe travels!
“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!
This time just last week I found myself still in Antigua, Guatemala, soaking up the last bit of sweetness and sunshine of a truly remarkable artistic adventure.
Today, at least according to calendars, spring has arrived.
Charlie is not amused, but I assure her that this will pass quickly. For while the snow falls and is apparently due to drop 4-6 inches on our fair river valley, the birds do sing, the buds do promise a show, and so I admire the loveliness, and sift through sketches and photographs of a time well had down south….. now while sipping hot bevvies.
It is always a bit of a journey to truly move between one place and another, each beloved, each so different from the next. And so I have taken my time getting back into the swing of things here at home. There has been work to catch up on at the shop (this is my day job where I help craft world class concertinas and the cases which house them). Not to mention unpacking, much laundry and the defragmentation of lists and accounting. And oh yes, St. Patrick’s Day nudged itself in there as well.
All good and fine things, but I’ll admit to being a little more on the ‘busy’ end of the activity spectrum in recent days than I would normally care to be. It is a gift to have a bit of time on a snowy morning to share a bit of this latest Guatemalan adventure here. What a time we had!
After a quick visit to foggy, rain soaked Chicago, I traveled for a lengthy but uncomplicated day, arriving in Central America at sunset. By the time I made my way to Guatemala City, it was fully dark, but there was full moon splendor for the first few nights of my stay. I spent a number of evenings just marveling from the rooftop as la Luna came up and over the horizon.
A bit of time was also spent just marveling once again at the collection of trinkets and santos and other such things at our beloved Posada San Sebastián in those first few days.
Eventually, we did spend time out in town as well. Antigua does not disappoint with it’s charm.
The local active volcano, Volcan de Fuego, was quite active indeed. Breathing it’s blessings upon us by day and by night.
“We are volcanoes, when we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”
~Ursula K. LeGuin
We enjoyed working in our books a bit before workshop participants began arriving. I was thrilled to see them! Old and new friends alike.
They turned out to be very hard workers! Some folks came with a fair bit of know-how and skill, while others brought a beginner’s wonder to the table. All worked beautifully together which was fantastic and not unexpected. Somehow, I manage to attract the most amazing people to these Sketch Journaling adventures.
As luck would have it, before we even began working, our group was treated to a front row viewing of a local Lenten Processión just after our first dinner together….
We spent the coming days soaking up everything Antigua had to offer, both out in town and close to home, depending on mood and how warm the weather might get on any given day. The days flew by and yet stretched endless with possibility.
I drew the Joseph Santos at our Posada a couple of times.
My friend and fellow artist Vanessa Sorensen took a fancy to the Santos as well. Take a look at her gorgeous sketches and blog posts about the trip here and here.
There is color and community at every turn in this ancient city.
A brief note: Having lived in Guatemala as a child, I have a deep regard for the complexities of the variety of communities to be found in the country. When looking to acquire textiles and other forms of handicraft, it’s important to me to buy second hand and to pay a fair price. If I get anything first hand, I like to, again, pay a fair price to the artisan responsible. In recent years, thanks to my friends Rosemary who’s an amazing sketcher and mixed media artist (and a dear dear friend, pretty much responsible for this trip happening) and Mari Gray over at Kakaw Designs, I’ve gotten to know some weavers personally and I’m slowly learning a bit about what makes Guatemalan textiles. Below is our friend Lidia Lopez talking a bit about her work and how she teaches others about it. I always enjoy a visit to see her. She is constantly offering new things to admire and perhaps purchase and she’s always great about helping us practicing our ever-evolving Spanish.
And yet there was always a chance to duck into a cool and shaded corner for some quietude or to escape the sunshine.
There is a deep spirit of reverence at every turn. Santos on santos on santos. Religion is a very visceral and real thing in Latin America. It’s refreshing.
I prayed to the gods of all things in my own way. Best I know how.
We drew and drew, sketched and painted. Some just quick captures here and there.
Other longer drawings, begun in place and tweaked and worked (perhaps overly so) back at home at our posada.
The quirky festival atmosphere in Antigua lingered on. Lovely evening light delighting photographers day after day after day.
As all trips do, this one eventually had to come to an end. I traveled back home to family and day job responsibilities, friends traveled on to other places in Guatemala to do work in the realm of Speech Pathology. While I sit here with tea and a wool hat and extra socks on, they informed me this morning that they grapple with 100 F degree heat for their work this week. What a difference a week makes.
Meanwhile, I heard from the lads at the Posada that the new courtyard being installed in my last couple of days there is now complete and the results are stunning. The outdoor space there has always been captivating, but now it’s truly expanded in its usability. I can’t wait to get back there with workshop groups to sit and draw all day! The dates for next year are approximately the first 2 weeks of April. I’ll craft a specific page here on the blog soon with specifics and you can choose one or both weeks, both will be essentially same, but no two weeks are ever the same so if you attend 2, you’ll get 2. More soon on all of that once the numbers are crunched. If you are in the Northern California realm of this world and want a taste of this process, I’m doing a 2 day workshop outside of San Jose and Santa Cruz the last weekend in April. You can sign up for one or both days. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested and I’ll get you the specifics. And, while I’m on the topic, there are still a few slots left in the annual Taos, New Mexico trip which is a week long…..
There is much I miss about Guatemala as I gaze out upon our, for the moment, snowy landscape. I miss the color and timelessness, the quick smiles of locals one sees every day on the street on the way to breakfast. I miss the sense that just beyond the veil there is a part of myself I lost along the way somehow and which, with every visit, I begin to recapture.
There will be more about Guatemala on this lowly blog to be sure. I hope to bring The Hub back there in November to share with him all I have discovered since our trip there for our anniversary. I have many more drawings to make and musings to consider as well. Something about this place feels like it can unlock a lot of what makes me tick as a person. This is something I seek to explore. We all have complicated histories. Mine includes this marvelous place.
Amidst quietude, color and beauty, I am ready to begin unpacking it all….
Difficult to believe that at this time just last week, we found ourselves in the magical, mist-ical lands of coastal California -my hub just barely cracking through his shell of over-work, only to have to dive straight back in again. But it was good to see a glimpse of himself to be sure. I am hopeful he could be coaxed back to this real life once again soon.
It is always a strange thing to return back to our regular doings back here at home in Ohio. For me, the mark of Good Travel is that it makes for a yearning and a churning of the soul, a fire in the mind, which keeps us asking questions of ourselves about how we are living this One Wild and Precious Lifeof ours. While we balance chores and responsibilities, work and dreams of what can be, time marches on ever faster. We must make sure we are on the right track. Travel and all the soul-nudging it brings with it, is one sure way to track our proper path isn’t it?
Yesterday my daughter sent along a new song to add to a running playlist I get going each year which tends to set the tone for the up and coming Taos sketch trip. This annual trek to the high desert is a flagship workshop for me as an instructor/facilitator. And the yearly playlist often carries a loose theme through the songs which happens strangely and organically. One year it was about light, especially Golden light, as I found myself craving the sparkling quality of light that is found in places such as northern New Mexico. Yet another year the loose theme seemed to be aboutthe heart of the matter – on finding ones heart beating below the surface of all that is thrust upon us in the drudgery of the day to day.
On a whim, I sent along this new song to a dear musical friend of mine, also the parent of a young adult daughter, knowing the both of them might appreciate it. He asked how I found myself relating to this new song and it got me thinking about my playlists in general and how I use and relate to them. About why I gather songs and how they capture a moment in time. Like the old mix-tapes we might have traded around in our teens, these playlists relay a certain kind of longing. Today’s longing is a more complex, multifaceted thing than my middle school obsessions. Now, I find myself pining for wilder places versus people, be it a sea of salt-water or a sea of sage. I suppose my yearly playlists are a listing of love songs to landscapes that are out of reach to me in my daily life.
“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” ~Terry Tempest Williams
Once upon a time, I dreamed of being a scientist. I love all animals and could spend hours upon hours in observance and wonder of them. Alas, I do not have the mind of a proper scientist which remembers long and (to me) complicated names and specific facts and figures, and so my observance skills took a different path to that of artist. Now, my very favorite thing is to go to a wild place and watch, and draw, and wonder. Just a different kind of scientist really.
We had the great fortune to obtain access to a beach near Santa Cruz which the majestic elephant seals come home to for a season each year to go about the Business of Life. Here they mate, struggle for territory and status, give birth, nurture and nurse, grow and learn, rest and recuperate. We were fortunate to have a patient guide on our tour who allowed us to tarry a bit longer than other groups so as to take it all in properly.
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” ~Aristotle
And amidst all of this marvelous wildness, we had also the comfort of dear friends who welcome us to this wild land with open arms. In the evenings there was a warm fire in the hearth and plenty of tea and long over-due conversation.
The ocean and it’s splendor was a indeed big player in our whirlwind trip west. I had a run on the beach one morning and we sketched the waves. I was captivated by the variety of dogs to be found having their daily walks along the shore.
We also took part of a day to meander down the coast and visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium where we watched, entranced, the displays of Jellyfish and other watery wonders.
“Jellyfish: The sea offers up flowers of glass like thick light. They are transparent landscapes.” ~Raquel Jodorowsky
I was reminded of some old work of mine with the jellies, and vowed to come home and make more.
“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” ~Loren Eiseley
“…the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonders forever.” ~Jacques-Yves Cousteau
But the trip was not all ocean all the time. I was invited to an Irish music session at a local home of a friend of a friend of a friend, which is how it works in musical circles, and was welcomed with open arms to share a few tunes.
Welcomed with open arms is also how we felt in the Redwoods just minutes inland from the sea.
To walk and wander in a forest of these trees is to experience the notion of Cathedral. We found ourselves whispering in hushed tones out of respect. Even the local wildlife is quiet. With the trees comprised of naturally inherent tannins, they are insect-repellant, and therefore even the chatter of birds is kept to a minimum.
We sat and sketched a giant for a good long while. It was cold and quite humid.
All in all, it was a wonderful getaway. January in Ohio is not for the feint of heart. A friend of mine, also from the world of Irish music, was saying last night that while she has lived in places with reputations for the harshest weather winter can throw at us (i.e. Alaska, Montana) she has found that winter here in SW Ohio/ N. Kentucky is particularly draining for it’s gray heaviness. Difficult to convey to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, we here in this river valley trudge through the winter months as best we can, thankful for the opportunity to get out of town when we can.
I left the Hub in California to do his work and I to come home to do mine. The temperatures were in single digits upon my arrival which was shocking to the system to say the least, considering I had had my toes in the pacific ocean just days before. But, I made some little woolen boots for my smallest dog, brewed a lot of tea, and carried on.
“Have you seen the girl with the mind on fire?”
“Have you seen the girl with the heart as big as the sea?”
I am not the only one with a big heart and a mind on fire, yearning and churning for a bit of change. The world at large is calling for it as well, at least women and those who love and respect them.
This past weekend marked the 1 year anniversary of the Women’s March and we did it again. While the news didn’t make much of it, the numbers appeared to be as large if not larger this year. I was at our march here in Cincinnati and while the palpable shock of the election of a vile predator-in-chief was not as present this year, a continuing sense of outrage was.
The energy was palpable.
These strange times seem to have unleashed a free for all on many levels. On the one hand, the highest levels of power, especially in this country, are seemingly above all scrutiny. Politicians who once would have run a president out on a rail for the kinds of shenanigans ours pulls off, merely turn a blind eye and shrug off the behaviors of the current administration. I marvel. But the flip side of this coin is the notion that really, anything is possible. And I find a bit of hope in this.
I find that there is a fire in my own mind of late. The travel bug is turned on full-force by this most recent trek to the fair state of California. Guatemala is right on it’s heels, a mere 37 days away for me, with workshop participants arriving shortly there after. And there are more adventures to follow. Traveling shifts perspectives and asks us to consider hard questions. Questions such as, should we give up this little track of land, with is gardens and trees and lovely, soul-nourishing green space and quietude, for a condominium with less upkeep? Could doing so free up even more time and money for travel? Or would we regret giving up this amazing space? Do we want to even stay in Cincinnati? For me the draw of my family and friends (this includes my art and music family) is a big one. But part of me feels my studio practice could really use a daily walk in the wild, versus the familiar suburban paths here in Ohio. These are all the questions burning just now. And likely they will continue to do so for a while.
One could go a little off the rails with these ponderings, but the work will always bring me back to center. Sitting down to write a bit here settles my bones. From across the room, the paints call to be mixed up to craft some new paintings. Who knows where they will lead. Story ideas come and go, flitting and floating in clouds of doubt and fear. Rays of light amidst the dust particles. Today on this day of endless gray, I’ll follow the words, follow the paintbrush, follow the breath to whatever comes next.
Today it is a delightful late-summer’s day here in the Ohio River Valley. I have the windows thrown open for fresh air and the sun is shining brightly in an uncharacteristically blue sky. (usually August is Smogust.)
I’ve taken this day to attend to a final few veterinary well-visits for our menagerie (weeks in the doing of it), as well as to attempt a bit of wordsmithery here on the blog.
In the midst of all of this normalcy, I am finding it difficult to put into words a most liminal day earlier in the week. For on this past Monday, myself and a few fellow intrepid souls took to the backroads on a Quest for Totality.
We had heard that many folks would be traveling en masse to see the spectacle that was to be the Total Eclipse of the Sun 2017. As our plans came together rather late, we opted for One Big Day of travel to and fro and knew we were in for an adventure. I packed a picnic lunch and many jars of tea and set off in the wee hours of the morning to gather my friends for the day.
I’ll admit to experiencing some trepidation regarding the notion of standstill traffic….
We careened along carefully chosen backroads in Indiana and Kentucky, through national forest lands and in and out of mist-laden farm country. The phrase ‘over the river and through the woods’ comes to mind. And we found it beautiful. There was to be no traffic, thankfully, at least on the way down.
The journey was quiet and filled with interesting stories and conversation. We did not need the radio on, so satisfied with each others’ company were we.
The sun did rise eventually, and the miles did pass. Each seemingly unaware of what was to come on this momentous day.
We had our star charts, and an idea of where we might need to be to witness a total eclipse of the sun in our region. And so, we drove and drove, perhaps a bit farther than some as we opted for west, then south to avoid the crush of sun-seeking humanity.
There were signs for a municipal park nearby and so we followed them and found ourselves in a delightful setting. Enough fellow sky-watchers to feel a sense of human-camaraderie for the Big Event, and yet enough private green space to feel centered in the scope of what was to come, just by ourselves. We had come prepared for reverence.
We ate our lunch together on some sporty bleachers and watched those with large telescopes prepare. We celebrated the tail end of our meal with the most delicious brownies ever.
1 (15.5 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
3 tbsp oil (I used coconut)
Maybe around 1/4 c peanut butter (a nice blob in any case. This is optional though.)
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c plus 1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Semi-sweet chocolate chips for topping (optional- but…)
Preheat oven to 350 f
Add all ingredients into a blender (except for the chocolate chips). Blend it till all the beans are blasted apart. Batter will be a bit runny.
Lightly grease an 8×8 baking dish and pour the batter inside.
Top with chocolate chips or nuts
Bake for 25 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean if you poke it
Cool for 30 minutes before cutting and serving. This is so it doesn’t fall apart when you cut it.
But I digress.
After lunch, it was TIME. We heard it announced that It Was Starting. And sure enough, when we glanced up at the Sun with our special glasses, part of it appeared to be missing.
This was a relatively slow process actually and so we took turns monitoring the Sun being shadowed by the moon and spent the in between time tending to our sense of the Divinity in it all.
There were crystals to charge, prayers of thanks to offer, bundles to smudge, bless and wrap for sending along to the nature spirits and the Otherworld. We burned incense which had been given to Justin and Megan by our dear departed friend Cindy, and we shared stories of her generosity and her most artful life. (as for me, Cindy is who first lent me a flute to see if I might like to tackle this most difficult instrument. I am forever grateful.)
We struggled to get our normal camera gear to cooperate in these difficult and potentially harmful conditions while we attempted to document the undocumentable.
I was so tickled to be with friends who are at once practical and spiritual in their endeavors. I maintain that my Irish music friends are the deepest and smartest people I know in my lucky life.
Soon, it was clear that Totality was nigh.
And so it was.
I took a picture and then took my glasses off to merely witness.
As totality had approached, all of the things that were supposed to happen did so. The light changed, the birds rested and dogs howled. As the darkness took hold, a cheer went up from our fellow sky-watchers. The tree-frogs and crickets began to sing. Street lamps turned on. And, possibly because we were in Kentucky, gun-shots were heard off in the distance as well. I suppose we all celebrate things in our own way.
There are times in our lives when the universe seems to hold its breath for a few moments. If we are fortunate, and if perhaps we have taken the time and care to be paying proper attention, we can catch a little whiff of the Otherworld in these auspicious times.
Still points in life are found in the usual, expected places – the moment a baby is born and draws it’s first breath, or at the bedside of a loved one in the process of a peaceful passing on. I’ve witnessed a fair number of both of these scenarios and for a time immediately following these life changing moments, the world doesn’t seem quite it’s usual self. There is a palpable divinity in everything somehow. It is as if a veil is lifted for a time and we are Reminded. In a more reverent and perfect world, perhaps we could feel this in the day-to-day, yes?
I find it difficult to express the Otherworldliness that this eclipse provided our merry band of sky-watchers. The mere shift of the light was the very same I’d heard described (but never quite witnessed) in all the stories of Faerie-land. Time stood still. We marveled and wept at the cosmic beauty we had the great fortune to behold in this very moment. Life itself is a miracle really and moments such as this remind us in a way that is nearly heart-breaking.
I could go on and on. But it is difficult to convey. Perhaps Annie Dillard says it best in this quote from her article from 1982:
“Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”
I have seen partial eclipses in my lifetime. But this was an altogether different animal indeed. I will go so far as to say there was before, and now there is after. There is a sense of feeling one’s place in the cosmos. My friends and I are already plotting the best situation for April 8, 2024.
When totality had passed, and we once again had to don our viewing goggles, there was an indescribable sense of glee in all of us. We danced and cartwheeled and made music and laughed.
As if we were under some faerie-land intoxication.
Perhaps we were.
We continued to watch the sky for awhile after totality as the chunking out of the sun is truly miraculous to watch.
And after a while we settled in for a bit of a nap. All of us feeling we were under some sort of spell.
This is where it came to me that we had witnessed one of those liminal moments. Like a birth or a death, or the moment you know you’ve met your beloved – there had been a shift, a change, and none of us would ever be the same.
Eventually, the heat and the ants let us know it might be time to pack up our things and begin the journey toward home, which suddenly felt so very far away. But we still had each-other, and this amazing shared experience. And thankfully, a well-timed cup of coffee on route through Kentucky.
We did face some traffic on route home, which alas, gave me some comfort. In this day and age of cynicism and sarcasm, reality tv and ‘fake news’, the path of red tail lights on the highway informed me that much of humanity still holds wonder for the Great Beyond. We still wonder at that which we cannot altogether explain. The astronomers give us the timing and the maps for witnessing, but our souls show us the way into the cosmos.
In the beginning was the dream…
In the eternal night where no dawn broke, the dream deepened.
Before anything ever was, it had to be dreamed…
If we take Nature as the great artist, then all presences in the
world have emerged from her mind and imagination. We are
children of the earth’s dreaming. It’s almost as if Nature is in
dream and we are her children who have broken through the
dawn into time and place. Fashioned in the dreaming of the
clay, we are always somehow haunted by that; we are unable
ever finally to decide what is dream and what is reality. Each
day we live in what we call reality, yet life seems to resemble
a dream. We rush through our days in such stress and intensity,
as if we were here to stay and the serious project of the world
depended on us. We worry and grow anxious – we magnify
trivia until they become important enough to control our lives.
Yet all the time, we have forgotten that we are but temporary
sojourners on the surface of a strange planet spinning slowly
in the infinite night of the cosmos…
There is no definitive dividing line between reality and dream.
What we consider real is often precariously dream-like.
Our grip on reality is tenuous…
Excerpt from Eternal Echoes
by John O’Donohue
May you take the time to journey toward cosmic wonders in your lifetime. May you see these wonders in your day to day, even in the simple changes in the light of day….