“You can think and you can fight, but the world’s always movin’, and if you wanna stay ahead you gotta dance.”
— Terry Pratchett
Yesterday a number of us gathered at the local Irish Heritage Center to celebrate a very special birthday. Our beloved Riley School of Irish Music turns 20 this year and to mark the occasion, we put on a ceili, which could be described as like a wedding, only without the happy couple. There was music from our ceili band, much dancing, called and instructed by the one and only Éamonn de Cógáin, lots of food and drink to be had, and all in all was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.
It is difficult to describe the place the Riley School has held in my life personally, and in the collective life of our family. The music my kids (one more than the other) and I have learned and played over the years has changed us all for the better. We have life long friendships now which we’d have never found without this school. I began at the school as a mere parent accompanying my child to fiddle lessons – and I found my tunes and my tribe. This music has taught me many things which apply to a life well lived and art well made. I’ve learned to be less shy, to laugh more, to make mistakes and keep on playing. My son has gone on to pursue music as a profession and my daughter can still pluck out a few tunes on the banjo. (Party tricks do come in handy and one must always be ready to surprise people.) We are better because of this little school which teaches what some might call a simple folk music. Which I suppose it is. But it’s complexity is to measured by the effect it has on the lives it touches. Musicians play so that dancers might dance, at least in the Irish tradition. It was lovely to have such intrepid souls out to dance this day, many mere beginners.
But soon our caller Éamonn had everyone laughing and trying steps and smiling and dancing.
With all of the malcontent the recent political happenings has dredged up, I have been thinking a lot about the place of music and artfull-ness, and dancing and laughing in the face of all of it. I imagine that those who played Irish music over in Ireland during the troubles certainly must have played in spite of, or perhaps because of, difficult times. And we do too, now, in these difficult times. To be fair, I suppose many voters do not think we are in difficult times with our new leadership choice. Though I certainly do.
And so, it is more important than ever to dance. To play our favorite tunes with vim and vigor. To paint the brightest of pictures. After all, we are all running along on the hamster-wheel of life.
I hear told that there was a similar dance, also with a band, in the town square of HamsterTown. One wonders what tunes they danced to that day, and whether their caller could even hold a candle to our Éamonn. I imagine, he’d have given him a run for his money…
The mountains are burning. And some days it seems, if we are to believe the bright screens we cling to, so is the world at large. Naively I thought the end of the election would bring about some solace. But hateful things do not always recede. At times, if they are repeated and retweeted, they become the reality only a small few desired.
And so, each day, I attempt to fathom the next step. Not only for our nation necessarily, but for me. As an artist. As a maker. As a purveyor of whimsy and (I hope) beauty in this big ol’ goofy world of ours.
I have read here and there that social media took a high profile part in the election of this new reich and I do not doubt it. We live in a vastly different world than even just at the last election. These platforms are part of our lives, whether we wanted them to be or not. It is up to us to determine how much of it gets into our inner sphere. It’s not as simple as turning off the television anymore. We must be vigilant, especially as artists who trade in the visual, to closely monitor what reaches the inner sanctums of our minds and hearts.
In the perhaps misguided attempt to find an answer to ‘How Did We Get Here?’, I have recently instigated conversations with Trump supporters in my own network of family and life-acquaintances. I have looked at surveys on what makes our society tick. (Please, please, please. Watch this documentary. It’s important.) And I am still without an answer, and alas, with some serious tensions in relationships of old.
I’ve deleted and retreated a bit, I’ll admit. In the interest of my own sanity and my policy of ‘Only Light In, Only Light Out’ (which lets face it, paying attention to the news causes to slip a bit), I’ve taken to seeking out my fellow artists and thinkers for comfort. My critics would call this my ‘echo chamber’. But I would counter, I have work to do. And I am finding it hard to do the work I am called to do in a culture of hatred and speedy, snarky commentary that I cannot even read in real time, let alone respond to.
So how to navigate this? ‘Find your tribe’. While I am fortunate enough to have real, live, fellow artists to gather with and seek support from in my ‘real world’ here, I am also eternally grateful for my online community who live all over the globe. I can reach out and seek out the very words I need to get into a hopeful, studio-friendly, art-making state of mind. The Instagram platform of social media is especially powerful in this way and today especially, it did not disappoint. The lovely Pixie Lighthorse spoke on her Instagram page on how the acts of stirring soup and tending to home fires can be as powerful as those of outer activism. And photographer Morgan Wade provided the pep-talk I needed this morning asking the vital questions we must answer as makers….
What wakes me up? Coffee. (still working on the deeper more philosophical question here.) Music, beauty, a brisk walk. Time with loved ones.
What and who am I fighting for? My people. This includes myself, my children, my family, my neighborhood, my community, my nation. (that is the who). The what? Kindness, civility. A slowing down/backing up of all the awful. I think my work tends to these tasks in some way.
What kind of world do I want to live in and pass onto our children? One in which we mustn’t constantly walk in fear. One in which we can be ourselves. One in which judgement doesn’t play such a deep role in our sense of self.
What softens me to myself? Letting go. Of judgement. Of fear. Playing music and making pictures.
So this recent in(sta)sanity, combined with music played with friends at the local session, and before that, a Brazilian Jazz Combo show by my oldest and his jazz mates….
…. further combined with the doodling of my own set of characters…..
….has me feeling, for the moment at least, a bit more on an even keel.
Here is the thing. I doodle. And usually those doodles amount to nothing more than putting little creatures into people-like clothing, and creating little stories with the pictures. It seems so simple. But at the heart of it, it is not simple. At the heart of things, I make drawings of small, vulnerable creatures who try to make sense of a world that is so much bigger than they are. In this way I think I speak to everyone just trying to get along in this big, overwhelming world and not become prey to the likes of our president-elect.
I have a number of other little ‘rodent-in-clothing’ drawings that I can’t yet share but know that I am at the drawing board daily, between spells of tears, and that I am desperately biting back the desire to run away in a caravan or high-powered zeppelin.
It is my favorite sort of day. One which began inspired and meditative, flowing along at my own pace, following my nose in an artful way, with no lists or have-tos clouding my inner compass.
Today I have been graced with the following….
Meditation at the very tip of my pencils.
Green chili stew on my stove top. (I don’t eat much meat, but this stew’s protein came from my friends over at Grassroots Farm. I am so very grateful for their work.)
Many (many) mugs full of tea. It’s fuel.
Ghosts at my doorstep. It is a liminal time of year, is it not?
Cool autumnal breezes in the tree tops. We have been afforded a most beautiful fall season. This doesn’t happen every year. It is a gift.
The warm glow of candlelight on my studio window. (The gorgeous candle is by my favorite honey and wax peddlers, Bee Haven to be found locally here in Cincinnati at Findlay Market on week ends.
A four legged friend who is up for adventure and doesn’t talk that much.
and finally, some paint on my paint brush. I’ve been coaxing a little painting along lately who is not so keen to tell me all of her secrets. She is to be wooed slowly it would seem. I am giving her time and space to tell me what she knows. We will go from there. But this much I do know…..
she knows of the power in the flutter of a moth’s wing. she knows she must always have a basket handy for carrying the gatherings, (though what is in her basket, I do not yet know). she spends a great deal of time outside as it tends to keep her thoughts clear.
A couple of weeks ago I took a short stop motion animation workshop through my local artist’s collective at the Kennedy Heights Art Center. The instructor is Kate Ball whose work is interesting and hand crafted and which has just the right amount of surreal creep factor. I loved it! We had a ball working as a group and I knew I’d want to go home and try it myself. Here are the early experimental results……
I have no idea if I will keep working in this medium as the paints are calling. But I like that this is just another tool in my took kit in the art making realm. I do enjoy it. I hope you do too!!
This time last week, hard to believe, I was packing up boxes and cases, making last minute visits to loved ones in my home away from home, grasping hugs and goodbyes to new and old friends alike, with promises not to forget.
It’s easy to come back home to our day to day lives and forget the work we have done while in Taos. The week out there being just one in a year full of so many work-a-day weeks. Weeks when we might be tempted to forget the importance of our day to day creativity. And how crucial that creativity and the belief in it are to a Life Well Lived.
Each year I marvel at how a little class focusing on keeping a daily visual journal can become such Big Work. It IS Big Work. And I mustn’t forget.
For myself in my own practice of it, and for my students as well. What once started as an art class with some sketching and gathering involved, has morphed into a week each summer where some like minded folks come together to open up to the world.
It’s really as simple as that. And as complicated.
I’ll attempt here to share a little bit of what we accomplished this year in Taos.
First off, re: the little ditty at the very above. I really miss my Taosñas. Each is a beautiful Chip of a Star. Every year whoever needs this class comes to it. I panic a little as registrations come in (or don’t) and remind myself that this is not up to me. My job is to put it out there and those who are supposed to be there, will be there. This year was no different. I had some repeat attendees whom I hope benefitted from new tricks, and some newbies whom I hope are affected forever by the power of the work. I really, really miss them. We somehow manage to pack a year in a day, everyday, day after day. And every morning they’d show up at breakfast, exhausted, raw and ready for more, much like myself.
Pictures cannot do the week justice. But I have a few snapshots to share, and a few more words as well.
I arrived in Taos and the town was hopping, unlike usual. The Mabel and Company show was making quite the splash down at the Harwood, and if you are in town, I recommend you see it. This place has attracted artists and movers and shakers since before history. The show at the Harwood gives us a snapshot of one such time in history when the attraction was especially compelling to the likes of Georgia Okeeffe, Ansel Adams, and DH Lawrence.
On both the front and back ends of this trip personally, I opted to get out of town and visit the old Lawrence Ranch, now owned, operated and managed by the University Of New Mexico. I was blown away by the sense of place I found there.
In particular, the famed Lawrence Tree captured my imagination and the interest of my pencil. I truly enjoyed spending time with this tree.
In my heart of hearts, I think each tree has a soul of sorts, but like people, some trees have a soul which shines brighter than most. This is one such tree. And Georgia O’Keeffe knew it herself.
It was an honor to spend some time with it. Humbling as well. Because, let’s face it, not all of us are Georgia’s. We must all find our own way.
Meanwhile, folks arrived and gathered and we began the week with some exercises “where the tight are loosened, and the frightened are freed.”
I love the energy of these early drawings. And wish I had gotten more images of all of the work done that morning. Basically, we laid some locally found color down and then did some contour drawing over top. But the end product was less about what was on the page and more about what remained in the heart of the artists themselves. Suddenly, those who came to the table buttoned up with all kinds of amazing skills, found their work loosening and changing and growing. And the beginners, well, they had these gorgeous instant drawings they didn’t know they were capable of creating!! It was pure magic.
Later that afternoon, as luck would have it, the Pueblo had a dance to attend. So we moved the afternoon class to the evening, and traveled en masse to witness the dancing.
I have taken to not posting much about what we witness at these dances at/in the Pueblo itself, as they are sacred, and really only to be witnessed first hand. But overall, for Day 1 of an art workshop, this was kind of a spiritual ticket to the delicious underworld of it all. Someone remarked that the energy in the classroom that evening was more like that of Day 4 than Day 1, and I credit that to the workings of the day at the Pueblo.
As the week went on, day two into day three, all began to roll together. I had structure laid down for the work each day, but into that structure, Magic came. And the days, once again stretched and changed and became Other.
Creativity is really just the structuring of Magic.
In the past we have had the great pleasure of visiting the buffalo herd of my now dear friend Harold Cordova. In spite of some serious new responsibility on his shoulders we once again paid a visit to these amazing animals who were nursing some new members of their herd and shyly introduced us….
As usual, these regal beasts wove their way into our hearts and into our sketchbooks.
And in the spirit of the endlessness of the days of this particular trip, I found time that evening to play some tunes with local Taos friends who have become dear to me over the years. In spite of teaching all day. In spite of a spiritual visit to some otherworldly animal friends. Eventually, we did this twice during my time there this year. Again, I marvel. At the sheer deliciousness of it all.
Of course, all work and no play, make Amy an insufficient instructor, and so I did manage to get my feet up now and then, as per the instructions of the history of the house….
I’m no Dennis Hopper, but I do know how to put my feet up . Special shout out to my dear friend Jamison who set this bit of relaxation up for me there. All in keeping with the spirit of the house.
(yes, this hammock was in the same spot as Dennis’s hammock back in the day. Amazing how the stories of old speak to us in this day and age, via something so simple as a hammock.)
Meanwhile, we worked and worked and worked….. (and I took a few – but not many- pictures.)
Sadly and soon, it was time for our annual end of workshop dinner….
The food at Mabel’s was, per the usual, show stopping. They are true artists. And we are grateful for the gorgeous, plated dinner to which we were treated that evening. (not to mention, the breakfasts and lunches day to day!!!) No dinner in Taos that evening could have compared to ours, I am certain of it. The food and the people of my day-to-day in Taos are what I am missing the most, really.
I am now back in Ohio. I have lots of delicious plans for further travels with loved ones and into musical mires which themselves transcend time and space much like my time in Taos. But these are different than Taos, and I am still missing my time there. The me there. The Us there. There is a small bit of me that hangs onto it throughout the rest of the year. A bit that only those Who Have Been There can really relate to.
My goal is not to forget. Not to forget how crucial this work is in a crazy world so hell bent on crushing delicate creativity. Not to forget how Big this work is when sometimes my day-to-day feels so very small. Not to forget that lives have been and are being changed by the simple act of keeping a journal, or of making a little drawing of something beautiful each day. This is important. This, is work worth doing.
In the end, I think Lani Potts, a workshop participant this year and also an artist and a poet, put it most beautifully in this poem which found its way into her journal….
Always a step ahead, is our inner muse, in whatever form it takes. For me, it is often Ginger Small, so small yet so intrepid. So willing to step in to the trust of adventure in spite of her perceived size, stature and strength. After all, we are all only as big, powerful and strong as we believe we are.
And so we send these muses ahead of us to pave the way. Ginger has left here (with a sliver of my own gypsy-traveling heart) to begin the trek out west to Taos where I will teach later next week. It’s more work than a week should be and so I pack and prepare maybe more than most might for a normal work week. I love this work. This week is what I prepare for all the rest of the year. This week of sharing my book-based process of sketching and keeping a visual diary with workshop participants. I love it. And during this week, I am always inspired to pursue my eventual studio work more fervently once back home.
Ginger Small, my little book character yet to be snatched up and published but yet ever so present in my imagination, has gone on ahead of me, as my imagination and muse-selves are wont to do. I wish her “Fair Winds and Following Seeds” , a play on an old navy tradition of wishing one on a journey or a move ‘fair winds and following seas.” For we are following the seeds of inspiration. To see what feeds us. What grows with a little planting, watering and weeding.
Whatever you are pursuing in your own artistic journey, Fair Winds and Following Seeds to you. And let me know what comes of it. For after all, we are on this journey alone, yes. But also with one another
I love moths. Not so much the ones who like to eat up our woolens when we aren’t looking, but rather the more showy ones.
A number of years ago I embroidered the luna moth above. She remains still one of my favorites. Although the model for the above moth hailed from West Virginia, all sorts of varieties of marvelous moths can be found in this Ohio River Valley, including the Luna, as we are situated along the very edges of Appalachia where loads of wonderful creatures reside.
I am excited for summer’s warmth to come to us (though not our late-summer heatwaves!) and along with it, perhaps a few more interesting moths to observe in the local woods. The One-Eyed Sphinx Moth, though not tremendously common, might be found on occasion in our Ohio woods. Today, however, I found one in my thread basket….
Well, really she came from my mind’s eye, with the help of a guide book and some source photos, with the eventual plan of being worn as a talisman. Much like the recent mushrooms growing in the same said basket!
It’s still quite chilly out of doors, so it is no surprise I found her curled up amidst the chaos of my embroidery.
And as I was home today awaiting some puppy meds for our Iris, I decided to follow this moth’s lead, and see where she might lead me.
Eventually she came together into a tiny, mothlike facsimile with which I am fairly pleased.
The art of embroidery is a slow and steady conjuring, consisting of the magical ingredients of time, patience, a bit of thread, and perhaps, a dash or two of binge-able Netflix.
As this work is so tiny, it will be installed into a wearable frame, looking much like a little embroidery hoop. I shall post it on my instagram feed when it is ready. Should this lovely moth strike your fancy, let me know. I’d love her to go to a wonderful home…..
ps… here is the necklace this little sphinx found herself into. I think it turned out nicely!
It’s a funny thing to go out into the world with a sketchbook, some pens and pencils and a little paint set. My friends from the Cincinnati Illustrators group and I routinely set out around town to practice our on-site rendering skills and one of our favorite colder-weather places to sketch is the Krohn Conservatory. Today was, indeed, a cooler day to be sketching and so we visited the conservatory where their annual holiday display is on. There are lovely little woodsy buildings made of natural materials, depicting many local landmarks and iconic places. And of course loads of gorgeous plants and flowers.
I sat for a good bit watching this little incline go up and down the hill to ‘Mt. Adams’ while I drew the scene.
After drawing for a while, I took out my paint set to add some color to my sketch. Soon, I realized that I had a mesmerized young admirer of my work.
and so I drew her.
She was delighted with the results and when her Gran asked her, ‘what’s she painting there, Peyton?’, my new friend answered, ‘that’s Peyton!’
Peyton’s Gran sent me the snapshots she took of our sweet exchange and I share them here with her permission. It was so wonderful to interact with guests of the Krohn, many of whom were fascinated by watching us draw.
Years and years ago, when I was a more shy sketcher, this notion filled me with dread. I am often asked by students, ‘what if someone wants to see what I am drawing?’ (!!!) And my answer is, ‘Let them!!’
We should all share our creative endeavors now and then, even when they might be new to us or feel clumsy. I’ve been sketching for years now. And each time I go out, I marvel at how curious and engaging folks are when I bring my sketchbook out. I no longer mind folks looking over my shoulder as I draw, since now I teach the process. I truly enjoy meeting the wonderful people who take a moment to say hello and ask what I am up to. An active sketchbook is a lovely way to experience the world.
Today is my 46th birthday. As is often the case this time of year, things are in a state of semi-controlled chaotic flux, what with school starting soon and Big Moves happening for both of the kids. Jack returned from Brazil just in time to join us on our annual summer sojourn to the coast of Maine and is now in the process of returning to his collegiate life across town. Meanwhile, in similar fashion, our youngest, Madeleine, is making lists and preparatory pilings of her own as we move her into a dormitory at Ohio State University next week. Things are getting real. They are embarking on a world of their own making….
All of this is, as expected, a little on the bittersweet side of life. But it is also the Way Of Things. This is why we raise them. So that they can hopefully head out into productive lives of their own. It is time for us to focus back on ourselves for the first time in ages. I for one am feeling a delicious fire burning in my art work, music and in my inner life, while the Hub, Tony, has plans of his own involving far flung watery places to explore. It is an exciting time for all of us.
So let me just catch you up a bit on happenings since I last wrote. As you now know, I am in the process of putting together a new workshop, launching in February. I’ve had quite a bit of interest, and a few sign ups too! And while I have been mostly on the road since the announcement and not able to ‘blast’ it properly as of yet, it is my hope that this class will be a ‘go’ with just enough folks to make it a reality. Do let me know if you have any questions!
Ah yes, the road. How it beckons!! Last I touched base here at my online home, I was off to a week of full on music at Swannanoa.
This was a week of complete bliss for me personally. Tearful reunions with people I only get to see once a year. We fell straight into tunes and laughter and musical mayhem that only ‘band camp’ can provide. I opted for two classes, both in flute, with two of my favorite instructors/musicians/people on the planet, Kevin Crawford and Nuala Kennedy.
They are not only brilliant teachers and players but they are absolutely hilarious to spend time with. In my own teaching I try to emulate the sense of fun and level of laughter I’ve known in classes with these two. It is through a childlike sense of play and creative experimentation that the best learning is to be had. Learning a creative pursuit as an adult can be daunting! Whether it’s playing a musical instrument, or painting a picture, adults take themselves (ourselves!) so seriously. Getting out of our own way is half the battle. I am still riding the wave of magic and beauty of that week, with renewed gusto to practice my tunes, to keep learning and improving. I intend to make it back to this week again next year. There is such a sense of ‘Brigadoon‘ to it all, magically happening each summer and then just like that, it’s gone….
Of course, if you follow my summer patterns at all, you know that no summer is complete without a dip of my toes into the ocean in my soul’s home, Maine….
Ginger Small and I were reunited up there as I’d heard very little from her all summer. And we have much work to do!
I spent a fair amount of time just gazing out to sea and doodling….
…that is, when I wasn’t partaking of the bounty of the ocean. YUM!
Our time in Maine usually allows for a bit of the ocean and a bit of the lakeside as well. I did a fair amount of oogling and doodling there as well.
It is a time we treasure, and each year we know it might be the last where everyone attends. Any next year could see the kids doing their own thing elsewhere. So while I painted and sketched a good bit, and came up with a number of tiny paintings, it is never enough.
Maine tugs at my heart strings harder and harder each year. Every year, it gets more difficult to leave the fresh salt air and cool breezes available there.
“She loves the serene brutality of the ocean, loves the electric power she felt with each breath of wet, briny air.” ~Holly Black
Having lived there once upon a time, I know life in New England is not all summer time and roses. Winters are cold and long. But I simply must spend more time there.
“When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.” ~Ranier Maria Rilke
For a while now, my dear, long time friend Amy (she who attended to the births of my children, my soul-sister) and I have admired the whimsical, colorful world of artist Henry Isaacs.
His paintings are impressionistic, energetic, and brimming with color that is at once straightforward and complex. They are the kind of paintings that make me yearn to pick up a paint brush and paint. But not in my usual sketchy fashion.
I’ve had this yearning to paint for awhile now. And I have painted. Here and there. I’ve made some paintings that I like a fair bit. While others have lacked the intensity I wanted them to have. They often feel too cautious to me. I’m not quite sure how to approach the materials, having had only nominal amounts of instruction in this particular way of art-making. Often as soon as I have found my way into a painting, it’s time to quit to attend to Life. And by my next visit to it, I’ve lost the steam. Clearly, I need some help.
So in honor of everyone in this household going off and learning new things and forging exciting new paths, I am heading back to the coast of Maine in just a few weeks to take a workshop with Henry Isaacs. I am so very excited to learn some new ways of approaching paint and then applying these lessons to the sights and sounds I find so enchanting by the ocean.
“I have sea foam in my veins, for I understand the language of the waves.” ~Le Testament d’Orphee
Perhaps I may get the opportunity to paint the ocean of sage in the high desert of New Mexico at some point as well. Again, something I have yearned to capture, but outside of my sketches, have never seemed to accomplish successfully.
I believe in following the voice of one’s heart. That intuitive voice that whispers ‘this, yes, this!!!!’.
I’m following that voice as much as I can these days. My Right Work seems to be a three-pronged dance made up of teaching workshops in beauty-filled places, making up whimsical stories and pictures for the young at heart, and just painting/sketching/drawing by myself (also in beauty-filled places). In between there I’ll work the day job when I can, manage the comings and goings of these adult children of mine, and try to keep this house in some sort of working order. Oh yeah, and music. Always music.
Today is a day of musing. Pondering my life’s path. I feel like the 46 year old me is waving enthusiastically to a younger version of me as if to say ‘This way! This way! Aside from a few bumps in the road here and there, life’s going along quite nicely just now! Just hang on!’ Because it is going along quite nicely actually.
I’m excited at the timing of this painting workshop opportunity, as it falls just as I have a moment to catch my breath before really needing to buckle down to work this fall on February’s offering. I get another taste of salty Maine sea air before they must batten down the hatches for yet another winter. My kids will be off doing their own thing for the first time really ever. I’m thrilled and excited and incredibly grateful for all of it.
Happy birthday to me.
….and here are some of the new Tiny Offerings from recent travels. Let me know if you would like to own one!
I think there is nothing quite so nice as to get a little something in the mail. And so I am a sender of mail myself. I love to write cards and letters to friends far and wide. Most recently I took to making a slew of wee thank you gifts in the form of tiny, one of a kind paintings. I am hoping they will be well received by those lucky enough to be on my list lately… This exercise of making tiny paintings is something I do with my classes as a way to shift our thoughts on scale and the time it takes to make a work of art. Unlike some miniaturists of late, these little paintings don’t take too very long at all. And they capture the impression of a place quite quickly. This series was clearly based on my recent weeks in Taos and I am keen to keep going with them. I gild each little painting in gold leaf and it becomes like a little jewel to don a card or perhaps dress up a page in my journal. There is a small part of me that wonders if these would be something to sell at some point. You may see them soon at the local art center gift shop perhaps…..
Are you a fan of tiny art work? Send me a message and perhaps I can whip up a tiny painting for you! I know Ginger Small will be happy to get some new works into her Tiny Gallery.