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.
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!
Recent days have seen me traversing the country, jetting between varying worlds, and even escaping to far, far galaxies on occasion.
I found myself suddenly in California just over a week past, admiring the coastline and it’s intrepid surfers, breathing in the brisk sea air, sketching the magnificent scenery. Many thanks to my friend Steve who took me on a California field trip to Natural Bridges State Park.
I took a couple of days to acclimate to time and space there and to catch up with dear ones who live too far from my particular holler. We made books together.
Soon it was workshop time. The Saturday portion found us at Montalvo Center for the Arts in Saratoga, California. It was a bit chilly and there was tree work on the grounds dramatically making itself known with saws and a chipper, but we found a somewhat quiet corner to begin our day.
There was a wonderful wisteria tree which caught the eye of many of the sketchers who found their own way to interpret it. It was early in the workshop so we talked a lot about capturing color and the basics of tackling a complicated scene.
Later we went out in front of the main house where an artist’s installation of birdhouses makes one special tree very different indeed.
Alas, I did not take many photos that day, as I was too entranced by teaching!
After our sketch day, we went back to the lovely and artful home of Rosemary who hosts this event each year to visit with one another and toast the day with a bevvie or two. I even managed to have a quick tune with my friend Tim who’s family had spent the day sketching with us.
Day Two of the workshop was here before we knew it and the morning had us up and over the mountain, bundled up along the shoreline of Santa Cruz. The weather was cold that morning but this did not bother my intrepid group of sketchers! We even dodged a few rain drops!
Everyone quickly got to work. Eventually we moved places, closer to the local lighthouse and lunching spot for more drawing.
We played with color and scale. And the sun even came out for us in the afternoon. A day on the seaside is an ever changing adventure.
Soon the weekend was over, and we said goodbye to this group of amazing sketch artists who will now go forth and doodle in their own daily lives. I opted to stay an extra couple of days to do a little work in my own books. We traveled to Point Reyes Station for lunch and wandering, then headed into the hills to sketch this mystical region.
The next day found us admiring the new vine growth at a local vineyard called Savannah Chanelle. It was quiet with bird song and chickens cooing and clucking in their coop near the villa. The vintner admired my drawing and offered to trade a bottle of wine for it. But alas, it was trapped in my sketchbook. Perhaps I’ll send along a proper painting to trade for next time. The wine is quite tasty there!
Alas, soon it was time to once more travel toward home here in the Ohio River Valley. But I felt as though my teaching self was reinvigorated and reminded of it’s true purpose. I was reminded of mindfulness and how this practice is a direct line into being truly present.
This poem came to me via Shippenverse a day or so before the weekend workshops and it seemed like the perfect thoughtful intention with which to begin the time together. So we typed up a copy for each participant and gave them as little favors. I kept the one with the most typos.
I have a small thing for real typewriters. Upon returning home to Ohio, I was alerted by my Hub, who knows good things when he sees them, of this little gem awaiting me at the local antique mall. Of course I had to get it.
I suppose I might have opted to stay in California forever but alas there was a great event to attend back here at home. A number of local rebel artists banded together to craft an art show so magnificent, it was literally out of this world….. in a galaxy far, far away…..
A good time was had by all that evening and the art came in all shapes and sizes be it sculpture, painting, or cosplay. I displayed 8 tiny landscapes from this captivating world created by George Lucas and by the time I arrived, 3 had already sold. The work is on display at local rebel watering hole, Brew House here in Cincinnati through the month.
It is finally spring here. Our aging cat Ian took down a mouse the other night which surprised all of us, likely Ian most especially of all! There is finally life and blooming and even, as of today, a bit of sunshine. I have a to-do list a mile long as I gather everything needed to launch the 8th year of the Taos Illuminated Journaling workshop. This is my flagship class in this process and each year I look to it as a true indication of how things have shifted and changed over the past year and I come home once again full circle to the things I know to be central to the work. I am brimming with gratitude that this is even my job and I know I can’t do it alone. So, thank you to those intrepid souls who take a leap and attend one of my workshops – a week or a weekend, at home or abroad – Thank you.
And to my husband Tony who manages things here at home when I am away and keeps spreadsheets like a boss. My friends and family locally who step up to help him when things get crazy -Y’all know who you are. And then of course a big virtual hug to my art-pal and fellow typewriter enthusiast, Rosemary, who so loves this work as much as I do that she helps me figure out where to go next! Thank you friend. For everything.
I am really looking forward to getting back to Taos as well in a matter of weeks to the folks who make my work possible there. Friends who have become like family over the years. You are deeply appreciated. all of you.
“I travel a lot. I hate having my life disrupted by routine.” ~Caskie Stinnett
A temptuous siren’s call beckons from the open road. Once again, I comb maps of places yet to be explored, finalizing flight paths, formulating rail patterns and charting the wheeled paths where travels may take me this season. It’s once again workshop season.
Second only to sitting absorbed in my own book and box of colors while on the road is my love of teaching the Art of Keeping An Illuminated Travel Journal to students who range from intrepid beginners to like-minded artists already brimming with their own artistic tricks of the trade. There is truly no wrong way to capture one’s travel adventures. For some folks, merely snapping a photo with a cell phone or even a proper camera might be enough of a record of time and experience. But for many many others, a new trend of mindful travel is all the fashion these days.
Our world spins madly on at hyper speed. Many of us look for ways to slow it all down. To step off of this merry-go-round – to hit the reset button and come back once again into our physical bodies. Travel is one way to do this of course, but if we are not careful, we may find ourselves careening through our travel experiences at the same breakneck speed we do the rest of our lives. A travel journal is one such way to ever-so-gently pull the reins back a bit on time itself.
As an artist, I have dwelled in the world with a sketchbook of some sort or other tucked under my arm or in my knapsack since before I can remember. But one doesn’t need to self-identify as an artist to experience the magic of a little book and a box of watercolors. While spring drags its heels here in the midwest, travel season must surely be on its way eventually, yes? As we plot and dream of summerly adventurings, my friend and fellow creative spirit Margot Madison, Empress Queen Bee of Creative Juice asked if I might have a few suggestions related to the art of keeping a travel sketch journal. Not able to contain this amazing practice, I opted to put together a blog post here which might give folks a taste of what I do and teach along with heaps of links and ideas to get you started.
What you need:
Not much really. A book, something to draw with and a little set of watercolors. For the book, opt for something not too cumbersome. Stillman And Birn have lovely books in all shapes and sizes. The Alpha Series features good paper which can take a watercolor sketch without falling apart. Moleskin books are also classically wonderful to work in, just make certain to obtain one with watercolor paper.
For drawing, I like both pens and pencils, depending on how I am working. Nothing fancy necessary in the pencil department, though mechanical pencils are nice to have on hand. Recently I have taken to using fountain pens for ink drawing as I was tired of the waste of an empty marker heading to the landfill. Artist Liz Steel has some lovely ideas and suggestions on which pens and inks to try, but my current favorites are the Eco-pen with Noodler’s Bulletproof inks.
Next you’ll want to choose a watercolor set. Over the years, I have steered students toward the Winsor and Newton field sketching sets and they have held up over time. There are countless options out there to be had from the world renowned Schmincke brand to handcrafted ones from Greenleaf and Blueberry out of Colorado.
Tuck all of these new found treasures into a comfortable little bag or backpack along with a container of water, a cloth for blotting and you are ready to Go Forth And Doodle! If you are to be out in the sun, consider a sunhat and glasses, and maybe a little portable chair if need be. (Though I find that most beautiful places tend to have a bench or two.)
But “I can’t draw a straight line”, you say. Well, first off, straight lines are overrated. Drawing and painting is more about learning how to really see than anything else. A wonderful, playful way to settle into a new place and to get your eyes seeing in vivid color, without the pressure of ‘making something’ is to make little color swatches.
This is a wonderful way to get to know your watercolors, and learn about mixing colors to capture what you see. The first place I saw this exercise is in the lovely work of Sara Midda. Her book South of France, A Sketchbook’, is a favorite of mine and serves as a lovely example of how some simple colors can really give one a sense of place.
You’ll find that every place has it’s own distinct and sometimes quite subtle color palette. Simply beginning with swatches will get you working into a blank page.
Mapping out a Place.
I adore maps of all kinds. You can paste a small map of a place in your book, or perhaps create one of your own which speaks to where you’ve been along your own route.
They Draw and Travel has wonderful examples of playful ways to map a new place as well as creative usage of text to light up a journal page. Below is a page from a student of mine. Notice how she painted the letter ‘T’ which really highlights her drawing from Taos New Mexico!
Another creative way to incorporate text into your capture of a place is to stop into the local post office for a postal stamp. Often state and national parks will have site specific stamps on hand to play with as well.
But wait, I’m still not drawing anything!
No worries! You’ve already begun to ‘mess up’ your journal with these beginning exercises. And this is key to sidestepping one’s inner critic who is so hasty to make commentary on your efforts. Besides maps and swatches and stamps, keep an eye out for ephemera from your journey. Ticket stubs and business cards can be pasted into your journal as a reminder of where you’ve been and what you saw along the way. Perhaps you might begin to tuck in a quick sketch in and around these found objects….
There is a veritable feast of resources both locally and online that can get you actually drawing. Artists like Danny Gregory and his Sketch Skool project, Dan Price’s little tome How to Make a Journal of Your Life, and the local chapter of Urban Sketchers are all great places to pick up ideas about drawing or even take a workshop. That said, there is no greater way to learn to draw than to just sit and draw. That may sound tremendously daunting. But every drawing you make, “bad” or “good”, you will learn something which you will then apply to the next drawing. Drawing is exercise. Drawing is mindfulness. When we sit down and really see something for what it is, in this place, at this very moment, we are in communion with that thing, in this place, at this time.
One great exercise is that of the ‘blind contour’ drawing. Sit in front of what you would like to doodle, look at it for a few moments. Allow your eyes to look at the lines that make up what is in front of you. Now, place your pen or pencil to paper and without looking at the paper, run the pencil around the contours of what you are drawing.
This process is good to utilize, even if you are ‘looking’ at your drawing because it tends to keep drawings loose and scribbly.
In the end, whether your travels are taking your far a field this season, or perhaps merely exploring your own back yard, or watching the kids splash about at the local watering hole, a travel journal is a wonderful way to catalog and capture these fleeting moments.
This week I am off to California to guide a new group of sketchers onto this mindful path of gathering experience. Shortly after that I’ll be back in New Mexico for my flagship class in Taos. If you are interested in joining me for a workshop, consider Antigua, Guatemala next April (I’ll be offering 2 separate weeks back to back!) or perhaps Taos next June. Or just dredge up the courage to join your local Urban Sketchers. I can promise you they are a wonderful, welcoming group of people and you’ll learn a lot just by doing!
(dangling from the shepherd’s hooks are little water wells which help keep hummingbird feeders from becoming overladen with bad bugs when the feeders are out. but at this point who knows if bugs, or hummingbirds for that matter, are anywhere in the neighborhood at the moment.)
I am laid out flat and irritated with an unexpected spring cold, the likes of which I’ve not seen this year. Cheekily I thought I was in the clear of winter’s ailments when the blossoms began arriving and we found ourselves sketching in the cool, but sunny breezes.
We managed some hiking with the dogs, were taking note of things beginning to grow and bloom and even my spring allergies had taken root.
We were celebrating.
It was not to last.
“Spring” has other ideas.
With spring allergies comes a lowered immunity, which is part of being human I suppose. And so, here I am with a roaring head cold. (and a cough to wake the dead, some sunken eyes and seriously productive sinuses.) Meh. Insert healthy dose of self-pity.
My mom always says, ‘this too shall pass.’ And she is, as moms are, absolutely correct. To pass the time, I have clung to escapism in the form of Netflix shows, a bit of whisky to clear the head (I’m not a huge fan of the regular medicines) and some time, when I feel up to it, to finish a couple of little paintings. I am grateful for this spaciousness.
There is no escape quite like the escape to other worlds entirely. I’m pleased to say that I have managed to finish a small series of eight tiny paintings which will go on sale at the local incarnation of May the Fourth, a day which celebrates all things Star Wars around the world.
I join a number of other local artists at Brew House, May 4th for the opening of this eclectic show.
These are all tiny landscapes of worlds you might escape to yourself, should you like, (penny for scale). As for me, once recovered I will be escaping next week to the wilds of California for a weekend of travel journaling workshops in the San Jose area and surrounds. But for now, it’s back to the Netflix.
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….
I sat down this morning to play with a new little something I recently acquired, called Joy. No, really, it’s a pen, called the Lamy Joy. Recently a former student of mine shared a link with me to the website and sketching work of Liz Steel down in the Land Down Under. I love the look of her sketches which have so much life and color and bold line work. She uses ink to draw and watercolors from there to bring things even further to life. I often work in the same way but have always used permanent ink pens such as Microns, Sharpies and the like to create my lines – before and after painting. I enjoy the look of a fountain pen line, but had never translated it to sketchbook work. She recommended this pen and, with a name like Joy, how was I to resist?
Last fall I attended an inspiring series of lectures by a number of wonderful children’s book illustrators and writers. One of whom, Sergio Ruzzier, works in pen and ink for the drawing, and then, like Liz Steel’s sketches, follows with watercolors later. I love the look of these drawings and have been playing a bit since then with a variety of pens and some inks. But these inks would ruin a proper fountain pen overnight.
These have been fun to experiment with in the studio but aren’t as friendly for on the go sketching. I do have another Lamy fountain pen which I love, but the ink I use in it wasn’t at all water-resistant so unless I wanted to stay in the grayscale world, it too was not exactly sketch friendly.
Reading Liz’s posts on fountain pens inspired me to do a little more digging into that world (it’s an overwhelmingly big and enthusiastic world, the world of fountain pens!) and see if there was possibly an ink I might take on the go, in fountain pen form, but which might be a tad more welcoming to watercolor. An ink that with proper precaution, wouldn’t ruin my new pen, but would allow some color.
Apparently, noodler’s black ink is the one. You can read all about it anywhere on the interwebs and with many posts all around giving it a thumbs up, even in actual working fountain pens, I decided to give it a go.
Guess what!? It seemed to work!
After just a few seconds of drying time, the little Fox in the Snow became a regular old orange fox and the lines did not run at all. I was thrilled! As much as I love the micron pens, I will admit that my stomach churns every time I go to discard a used up marker. Perhaps there is a way to recycle them somehow, but that doesn’t seem to be enough.
In this throwaway culture of ours, I look for even the smallest ways to not be such a consumer. This feels like a small way to do that. Maybe this pen, with it’s ink that can stand up to watercolors, and it’s variety in line weight options in just the one pen, can be a beginning.
I will need to draw a tad more often to keep that ink flowing, and make a point of cleaning out the ink more often than I do in my other pen. Perhaps this notion will keep me more in practice. I’ve been a bit out of practice since summer’s sketching and travel. This usually happens. But I am ready to dive back into daily sketching, and more and more painting and see where it all leads.
Not two full days home from my blissful week of music in Swannanoa and I find myself flying east to my soul’s home in Maine to visit friends of auld. These are friends who have known me longer than they haven’t, and I am blessed beyond the stars to have them in my life still. As a family we are fragmented this year for what is usually our time of solidarity. But this is how it is to be. One must follow his heart home for recovery after a Big Summer of Big Work; another, I have secretly purchased a two day ticket up to join us for just a moment or two and fingers crossed it all works out as planned (it does). And lastly, our anchor in all things fun, my hub Tony, does his best to come along for just a few days. He is successful and we pack a lot into a couple of days time off.
We spend as much time as possible by the sea or in the sea. Ferrying to our favorite places….
….eating oceanic gifts of the odd lobster or oyster; swimming, beach-combing the ever interesting, ever-changing wrack-line.
To me this is paradise and I collect a few little tid-bits to drag home to paint.
The coastline sets my heart all aflutter – all I want to do is paint. And yet I am restless and frustrated in a way I cannot name – torn between time with those I love and miss all year long, and my desire to make stuff. I also find myself really missing the music I have only just the week prior been steeped in, more so than in other years. Perhaps the music is sinking deeper into the pores after all?
Eventually, the paints do come out. But it takes time.
And keen observation. But the art does come. It starts slowly.
In between boat-trips and cock-tailed laughter, oysters and teenaged catch-ups, we take some time to drive round the old haunts of our early days all together -when there was Peace in the land but our boys did their military duties, deploying too often for our liking, even when babies were due. These are the things that can seal friendships for life.
In spite of hard winters and time apart, we remember our days in Maine with rich fondness. It is one reason we come back each summer.
Chapter 2. – to the lake side
Soon our seaside time was at an end and we were headed inland to a lovely lake house we’ve taken to commissioning for a week each summer. It feels like home, all the while we discuss going full on ocean-time.
We are torn. We love this place.
We love it’s moody skies and ever-changing weather patterning.
And the sunset views, which never disappoint, even on rainier evenings.
Chapter 3 – romancing the stone
Before my family leaves, we take a little kayak jaunt across Long Pond to Beaver Brook where I am captivated by a stone divided into three parts by ancient ice and time and other such forces. I vow to go back to sketch the place, as I have come with nothing but a hat and a paddle.
Soon enough, though surrounded with dear friends, I am left as the only Bogard on vacation which is a strange sensation. Tony has been dubbed the Julie McCoy of the group, always corralling us all to gaming and cocktailing, water-sport contesting and the like and things are really, really quiet with-out him around. This all plucks and strums strings of empty-nesting woes I don’t even think I was aware of until now.
I play it all out in the boat house on my flute.
I make it back over to the little cove where the Beaver Brook runs and the captivating stone resides. I marvel at the language of light and shadow which I can barely translate.
I believe there is something here to translate.
And so I ask the stone to help me.
It’s a start.
I am not one for series usually, but I am called to paint and have been looking for a form I could play with, from painting to painting. Not just the one-and-done sketch I usually go in for. This stone is just the ticket and I am enjoying exploring it’s complexities. There will be more, especially once I am home near the oils. I have traveled lightly this trip.
Chapter 4 – critters large and small
One day I go for a run across the way on the Mountain Road. A place I return to every year for it’s lake views through the trees, its lack of proximity to cars and traffic noise in general. Along the road I find a sweet feather which is eventually identified as a low wing feather of a wild turkey after much back and forth discussion and postulation both online and with my compatriots back at the camp. I even meet a lovely older gentleman along the road who thinks it could be eagle, though my guess is owl. I am not disappointed with turkey, as they are wonderous to behold in the wild.
I set out to sketch this lovely gift before I must leave it behind here where I found it. Sometimes I keep feathers, but this one shall stay.
I appreciate it getting my paint brush filled and setting me to painting, as it comes to me before the stone paintings begin.
This day’s run is truly fruitful as I also spy some horses through the edges of the woods and I stop to capture them with my phone-camera (the only camera I brought this year as I am traveling light. Still not sure about this decision.)
The horses pay me no mind and I think about the wild ponies some artists I follow online are fortunate enough to have in their lives as they go about their daily wanderings. I wonder what I need to do to have more woodland walking right outside my door, more ponies to spy on through the edges of the hedges. This is a constant wondering, as always.
Most times we wander down to the water from our little house here, we are treated to the antics of a local loon family who have some still young but near adult fledglings along with them. I borrow Amy’s proper camera with a decent telephoto lens to capture them up close for this post.
They are absolutely captivating as they call to one another, throughout the days and nights. This is the soundtrack to my dreaming and I am glad of it.
I am indeed glad of dreaming in general as there has been some wakefulness in the household in recent days. A wee mouse has gotten a bit too friendly, joining my friends in bed night before last, which gave them a start indeed. Last night, as lights are out, I hear a rustling and sure enough, wee mouse (we hope it’s the same) is in a paper bag into which I have stashed my knitting and a few varieties of tea I like to bring on my travels. This leads me to believe he is a country mouse indeed (I mean, tea and knitting, come on.) and he is escorted out of doors by our brave knight in PJ’d armor. No harm no foul, but we hope the lil thing stays outside for the remainder of our time here. I calm my late night nerves with a bit of bourbon and sleep fitfully from there.
Chapter 4 – where to from here
I write this missive in present tense, a style I see on occasion over at one of my favorite follows, These Isles. I have no idea if it works or not for others, but for me, today, right now, it works. This writing style allows me to step outside of a linear path of ‘what happened when’ and to step into the concept of the Traveling Now. The Traveling Now is not unfamiliar to quantum theorists, though this name for it is from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I find more and more that the order of things matters not. What matters is that we are present in it. Now.
On what might be the calmest evening left in the week, I wander alone down to the waterside for a quick swim in the moonlight alone under the stars. If you’ve never skinny-dipped for whatever reason is holding you back, it is something I hope you do at some point in your life time.
I arrive back up stairs, sobered and refreshed (pre-country mouse adventure) and I find this by John O’Donohue (one of my all time favorite go-to writers):
THE CALL TO LIVE EVERYTHING
One of the sad things today is that so many people are frightened by the wonder of their own presence. They are dying to tie themselves into a system, a role, or to an image, or to a predetermined identity that other people have actually settled on for them. This identity may be totally at variance with the wild energies that are rising inside in their souls. Many of us get very afraid and we eventually compromise. We settle for something that is safe, rather than engaging the danger and the wildness that is in our own hearts. We should never forget that death is waiting for us. A man in Connemara said one time to a friend of mine, ‘Beidh muid sínte siar,’ a duirt sé, ‘cúig mhilliúin blain déag faoin chré’ – We’ll be lying down in the earth for about fifteen million years, and we have a short exposure. I feel that when you recognize that death is on its way, it is a great liberation, because it means that you can in some way feel the call to live everything that is within you. One of the greatest sins is the unlived life, not to allow yourself to become chief executive of the project you call your life, to have a reverence always for the immensity that is inside of you.
I like to think that even something as simple as going to the lake side for a moonlight swim in nothing but my birthday suit is one small way to ‘live everything’.
Tomorrow we leave this place. As we do, we know nothing of the year to come. The third of the four kids who do this magical week with us each year (our two went first, now theirs) is off to college in just a matter of weeks. I do not know what the end of summer into fall-winter and beyond hold. I have some ideas of things I’d like to set into motion, which I will do. But for now, I read things that make my head and heart spin on its very axis, I make plans for an upcoming show that has me thrilled and terrified in equal measure. I continue to answer the (also terrifying though I do not know why) irresistible call to paint in ways I have not yet done. I show up.
This summer has been a gift beyond imagining and I am grateful for it. Each year I grow and make and play in the hopes I can bring that home to my friends and family and to my students along the way. It is a gift, and I do not take it lightly.
A few days ago we flew and flew, with great love in our hearts, only to find ourselves in Breckenridge, Colorado – breathless with altitude and not without some concern over recent local wildfires.
Alas, while we were there storms did kick up, rain did fall and temperatures too, just enough to get at least this fire under some semblance of smoldered control.
Our travels to this high country were to visit our eldest, Jack, as he is working with the National Repertory Orchestra for their popular summer symphonic festival of music. Each day we were able to attend their rehearsals which are free and open to the public, many of whom attend with friends in tow.
In a whirlwind of just a few days we managed to take in not only these rehearsals but two fabulous concerts. The first included Shostakovich’s Fifth along with music by Mendelssohn and López. We enjoyed it immensely!
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ~Plato
When not taking in music we enjoyed a bit of what Breckenridge has to offer in the way of touristy fun.
While the Hub worked one day, I opted to go horseback riding.
I’m not entirely comfortable around horses but each day we should do a little something challenging. And so I did.
What is it about horse-loving girls. They tend to have a spot of admirable moxie I think.
Between rehearsals and concerts and everything else, we did get to see and feed Jack. And to catch up on selfie shenanigans, which was great fun.
We even managed to get in some sketching here and there……
My favorite is this sketch below from our drive up Boreas Pass where I was captivated by some yellow lichen on the side of the mountain. And so I painted it.
The views from up there weren’t half-bad either.
Saturday soon arrived and by then we were feeling a bit more acclimatized to the altitude.
Saturday was to be a special day all around because a dear and long time friend who now lives in Denver was to drive up for that evening’s concert featuring the music of Star Wars composed by John Williams.
We watched a bit of rehearsal, of course, getting in the mood for the evening’s Star Wars excitement.
Royalty was in attendance that night and the mood was light and energetic.
(side note, the first few notes of this bit of Star Wars music once conjured a whole slew of summer camp shenanigans as we were learning this Breton tune below from our beloved and brilliant flute instructor, Nuala Kennedy. See if you can hear what I heard….)
The evening’s concert ended with an encore presentation of the wonderful and iconic Cantina piece, with a solo by none-other than the NRO’s brilliant conductor, Carl Topilow.
Even though he must’ve been exhausted, Jack graciously posed for photos with us, as well as with our long-time friend Amy from Denver and his amazing ‘host-parents’, Tom and Darlena.
Tom and Darlena graciously sponsor a musician or two or three each summer. Taking them on wonderful hikes on their days off, and out for iced cream after concerts. (Not to mention the backing they provide to the NRO itself!) Even though Jack is a fully-fledged adult, it’s nice as a parent to know he has parental influences to call upon should he need them. We also enjoyed a wonderful dinner out all together before the concert.
As it goes with whirlwind weekends, our time in the mountains was quickly past. We bid goodbye to Amy who headed back down the mountain to her life in Denver. We told Jack we would meet him in his birthplace of Maine in just a matter of weeks. We too made our way back to Denver, not unaware of the toll the altitude was taking.
I for one was ready to get back to some oxygenated air, although a bit muggy as things tend to be back here.
There is more to come in this summer of wonders. I find myself marveling at it all lately. Dear friendships, these amazing adult offspring of ours (do click the link and see what Madeleine has been writing about in recent months) and the places we get to see along the way. Some days the world feels as if it is going to hell in a handbasket. But it’s good to step aside from that, if we are fortunate enough to be able to do so, and to bask in the brilliance of a host of talented and driven young musicians. In their small way they are making the world a much better place. We are thrilled Jack has has a part in it this summer!
As for me, I am attending to household to-do’s and re-packing for next week’s adventures down to an older set of mountains for some older sets of tunes. Til next time….
My yearly pilgrimage to the Land of Enchantment began with a few days of solo travel, enabling my body and soul to sink back into this place. The last year has been a challenging one in many ways, not without its bright spots as well, and I had been craving time and space to sit with the everything of all of it. New Mexico has a way of giving us what we need.
I drove and drove, many long, mindless miles, embracing the quietude that comes with such spacious landscape.
Chaco Canyon is a vast and far-flung destination but worth the effort it takes to get there. With a near full moon upon us, the regularly scheduled star gazing tour provided by the National Park Service, instead became an evening walk amongst the ghosts of this strange land. Haunted and beautiful, indeed.
By the time I made my way to a charming little Super 8 in Bloomfield, NM that night, I had been up for 22 straight hours and slept, dreamless.
I found Chaco to be a mixed bag of ancient history, natural splendor and cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, I was grateful for the opportunity to visit and experience this Unesco World Heritage site, and to the NPS for their careful and respectful stewardship. And yet, more than one ranger remarked that native people in New Mexico and beyond have stated that these places are meant to fade back into the ground after they have served their purpose – all of their great mysteries, feats of architectural engineering and ghostly human stories lost to the sands of time.
I left Chaco a bit conflicted about it all yet enchanted all the same with wonderings about what sorts of people lived or worshipped here and what we might have in common. It was so good to be out in the wide open spaces of New Mexico with the vistas both outward and inward it provides to a tired soul. Grateful for my solitude and art supplies, I soaked it all up.
Then, just like that, it was time to head to O’Keeffe country….
I was fortunate enough to snag a ticket to a “Special Tour” of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio led by a personal caretaker of Georgia’s and her brother, who worked the gardens in her later years. This tour worked magically into my schedule for traveling to Taos to teach the following week and so I invested in it.
There is such serenity to O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu home. Her aesthetic was modern yet earthy – timeless, really. No photos were permitted of her indoor spaces but I was captivated by the light, the serene colors, and the fact that she too kept jade, aloe and other such plants that many of us keep in our own homes. She collected stones and bones and other things she found beautiful and surrounded herself with them. Knowing this about her and seeing these collections in her home and just outside felt very personal, artist to artist.
I was captivated by the sense of this place.
Eventually, upon arrival back home here in Ohio, I chuckled to see that my own hollyhocks had bloomed while I was away, and I was welcomed by my own ghostly skull….
I’ll admit to geeking out a bit while in the home and gardens of this iconic artist. I stood in the very doorway Georgia herself had found compelling enough to paint again and again, exploring its shape and form and depth.
It was like standing in a portal of history. And I have always been a lover of doorways to other worlds.
These few days could have been ‘enough’ to fill this empty artist’s cup and set me to painting once again. But alas, I had not come to New Mexico for the making of my own work. I was here to teach.
Taos has become my home away from home in the years I have spent teaching there. Much like Georgia O’Keeffe herself, the lure of New Mexico brings me back time and again, every summer, and each year I discover more captivating beauty and I continue to build community as well. Mabel’s family has grown and changed with the newly employed and the newly born, yet Mabel herself is still in charge of the place and I was welcomed home with open arms.
I took to getting settled, washing the dust of the road off in my familiar claw foot tub in Tony’s bathroom upstairs, and unpacking all of my boxes of books and supplies – readying the classroom space for a week ahead of work and wonder.
By day I worked and by evening I caught up with dear friends. It had been a year since my last visit and that is far too long. I was caught up on the latest dog walking paths, and introduced to new dirt roads and rushing riverbeds. I held a new Little Bird and gleaned a small smile from her. I was told with a wink and a smile that if we only found a little slice of land, that we too could build a small adobe space of our own near town, and that I’d have all the help I’d need for this handmade home. I’ll admit I am tempted.
Soon the beautiful people attending my workshop arrived, some new to me, others who’ve been before and return home to Mabel’s to renew their contract with what has become sacred work. I no longer question this truth -that what I do in these workshops is indeed a sacred kind of work.
What started out, for me at least, as a way to get to know the world and to slow down and take it all in with the wonder that befits it, has become an intense practice of creative mindfulness. On the one hand, I’m introducing and sprucing up the old lessons of composition and perspective, line quality and color theory. And yet, on a much deeper, richer level of the soul, I am working with people to disengage their inner critic (just give her a cookie and a window to sit by, she’s been hard at work and deserves a break, don’t you think?), to tap into their birthright of creativity and the act of making something which makes a heart sing.
Occasionally, we worked in our books from memory, such as when attending a sacred Corn Dance at the Pueblo and we must only capture images in our mind’s eye. I will note here that all of the images below are now in the private sketchbooks of these artists, as records of the day’s experiences. Very different than taking a photograph, which is prohibited on feast days. We have a deep respect and regard for this notion.
But mostly, we studied from what we had in front of us there and then. The Mabel Dodge Luhan House has much to offer in the way of beauty and things to pull into our sketchbooks and so we did.
We discussed how to capture that sense of ‘hither, thither and yon’ which beautiful landscapes provide us with. Otherwise known as ‘atmospheric perspective’.
We worked and played each day, sometimes into the night. I was a bit manic with the magic of it all to be honest.
But I love this work and the people who are drawn to it. I had to milk the time there for all it gave to me! I even found time to settle in to a tune or two with the local session players who welcome me every visit ever so graciously. For this I am deeply grateful.
As the week went on we sketched and laughed and drew and painted and ate good food. We were treated once more to a visit to my friend Harold’s herd of buffalo which everyone enjoyed. There was a morning visit, and an evening time as well, as the buffalo are shy and do not accept great throngs of visitors. Small groups met Harold at his ranch home where we caught up with him and the herd. Grateful for the grace of these magnificent creatures and that of their farmer/steward.
Too soon, as always happens, it was that time.
Time to toast to a week of work well done. With dinner created for us by chef Jeremiah Buchanan whom we collectively adored!
We shared our books around and traded addresses and gifts such as a wee concert by Marty Regan who is a musician by trade.
It was time to pack up the classroom and mail home my supplies. I was grateful for the help and company of a few students who stayed around for an extra day to assimilate all we had learned together.
And it was time to visit a few more places before we had to leave this Land of Enchantment. Like the breezy hillsides of the DH Lawrence ranch.
I needed to take the time to sit by the river at the Pueblo and promise that I would come back. To memorize the sound of its waters which have come to me in dreamtime at times.
Time to ponder moody skies which seemed to beckon “Come back and paint, quietly.”
On my final evening in town, with all of my company scattered to the Four Directions, the skies opened up with the great gift of a thunderstorm. This brief storm was filled with ethereal pink light that I longed to paint somehow.
A friend of mine asked me the other day during our very ‘middle-age-appropriate’ discussion of “What Are We Doing With Our Lives” if I didn’t think that being a good teacher might be Enough. I had been filling her in on the Taos trip and what a deep success I felt it had been all around. I was telling her how enriching it is to teach something successfully, but that I have been struggling to make the switch back over to being a maker-of-things. More specifically, a painter and maker of pictured-stories for small humans. I feel blocked creatively, as if in all of the beauty found in the creativity of others, my own quiet artist self has taken to the hills. I am seeking to woo her back home to roost. I love being a teacher. And I am so excited that my spring trip to Guatemala next year is already sold out and that next year’s Taos trip already has some takers (and I haven’t even listed it yet!!). But I long to paint. And write. And draw. And I must trust this longing, even as I pursue my work in these amazing workshops. And so, no. I don’t think it is enough.
I think part of this perceived block is just my inner-processing of what was a stupendously amazing trip back to a place which I love dearly and work which excites and challenges me. A painter friend of mine reminded me to be gentle with myself. That teaching takes a lot out of an introvert. That making the switch back to quietude takes time. And so I have been being gentle. I have been holding off making this post about it all because in some way, to write about Taos time is to shut a lid on it until next time. Buttoning that space up so that I don’t lose track of it between now and next year. I hope to get back for a visit between now and then if I can. Perhaps even for a workshop with Solange Leboucher who is a practitioner of Polarity Therapy which I have come to lean on as a tool of the soul when I teach out there.
I don’t know. I do know that if feels good to get back here on this old writing space and share some photos and to attempt to convey in some small way the gratitude that I have for the work that I do. I marvel at the scope of it sometimes, even as I ask more of it.
Til, next time….. enjoy this summer’s travels no matter where you go.
pps. And these words, from Millicent Rogers…..
“Did I ever tell you about the feeling I had a little while ago? Suddenly, passing Taos Mountain I felt that I was part of the Earth, so that I felt the Sun on my Surface and the rain. I felt the Stars and the growth of the Moon, under me, rivers ran. And against me were the tides. The waters of rain sank into me. And I thought if I stretched out my hands they would be Earth and green would grow from me. And I knew that there was no reason to be lonely that one was everything, and Death was as easy as the rising sun and as calm and natural – that to be enfolded in Earth was not an end but part of oneself, part of everyday and night that we lived, so that Being part of the Earth one was never alone. And all fear went out of me – with a great, good stillness and strength.”