Between

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.

When I shared this drawing with our inn keepers, they knew immediately who these guys were and were thrilled to see them!

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.

Photo by Vanessa Sorensen

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.

Check out sketches by Christina Wald from the trip at her Instagram page!  She of course had to draw the iconic Arco!

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.

photo by Vanessa Sorensen

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.

she’s carrying a skull. it doesn’t get more real than that!

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 abeefrnd@gmail.com 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….

Til next time Antigua.

 

Mind on Fire

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 Life of 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 about the 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

Amazing bronze drinking water fountain in Santa Cruz.

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.

I could live in condos such as these, couldn’t you?

 

 

Heart-full-ness

Winter finally arrived in our fair river valley in the form of a harsh and deadly freeze which assaulted most of the eastern half of this country over the holiday season.

Occasionally, I’d glance at the temperature gauge in our car and see a number hovering around or below zero.  With the biting wind, it often seemed colder.

Our three dogs were not keen on going outside to do any amount of business, especially the smallest of them who found herself at the veterinarian with a nasty bout of colitis which may or may not have been related to cold weather issues and, ahem, business or lack thereof.

And yet, we soldiered through.  Fortunately for the human beans in this pack of ours, we could don coats and boots and we did manage to spend some time outside, in spite of the deadly temperatures.  And it was lovely indeed.

“We must go out and re-ally ourselves to Nature every day… even every winter day. I am sensible that I am imbibing health when I open my mouth to the wind. Staying in the house breeds a sort of insanity always.”  ~H.D. Thoreau  (via Brainpickings)

One particularly brisk day I attended a winter plant walk to see what we could see.  I learned a lot, procured some mushroom tonic which I believe helped me shake a head cold, and met a new friend as well.

Oh to have an alpaca coat in this cold clime!  We had a lovely conversation and I was whispered many alpaca secrets that morning.

Eventually, we were treated to a bit of a thaw, as we are wont to do here in Ohio being neither North nor South.  It is nice to breathe cool air instead of gasping at the cold.

This winter has been so very different from the last.  I look back at last winter’s blog posts and feel the fragility and desperation of a self barely holding on, riddled with illness – in both body and spirit – and a palpable malaise in front of which only the act of writing could keep me.

This winter, today, now, things are lighter.  I approach this harsh world with a new foundation forged of the groundedness which yoga practice, healthy eating and the like have afforded me.  I am deeply grateful.  The other day at in meditation class we learned that the idea of mindfulness, which everyone goes on about in this day and age, is actually a bit of a mistranslation from East to West. That a more fitting way to put the notion is that of heartfulness. 

I found this idea quite captivating and found myself ruminating upon it long after our hour together as a group.  What if, when we begin the spinning sensation of uncontrollable thinking – “good” or “bad” (light or shadow) – we might just go and curl up in our heartspace for a bit?  The space where kindness dwells.  The space where we are beyond judgement.  We are so very hard on ourselves, aren’t we?  When we think dark thoughts, or lose our patience or don’t live up to some constant standard we hold ourselves to.  What if we could just let these human tendencies come, and quietly, without judgement, let them go?  With a full heart.

This notion is not a new one, I am sure.  I am not one for labels or for following one particular tradition or spiritual path.  But this idea of heartfulness over mindfulness really makes sense to me.  And it’s nice for things to make sense now and again, isn’t it?

There is much brewing here in the studio, amidst all of the bothers of the day to day, and the workings of the day job.  Following the lead of my friend Kevin Necessary (amazing illustrator and official cartoonist at our local WCPO) I did something quite out of character the other day and downloaded a digital drawing application on my phone called Procreate Pocket. Kevin had posted some lovely digital drawings and I was interested to see if I might be able to do something of my own with this new tool.

And so I am something of an old dog learning a few new tricks.

It feels nice to use the phone as a tool, versus feeling used up by the phone and all of its trappings.  I’ve curbed my social media use in recent days, being more conscious of whether I am using it, or it is using me.

I’ve ordered some clayboard panels which should be in next week to expand a small painting of mine into a triptych of sorts – a special commission for some kind patrons who happen to like cows.

I’ve said yes to a low-paying illustration job in the hope that the exercise alone will be worth the effort.

I’ve recommitted to not only keeping up with the flute playing so near and dear to my heart, but learning a few tunes on the concertina which I spend so much time around anyway at the shop.  (So far, I have a polka, a bit of a waltz, and half of a jig.  and maybe a bit of that old hornpipe I tried to learn a few summers ago)  I am so fortunate to have access to these beautiful instruments.  I might as well learn to play one.

With the dawning of a new year, thoughts turn to re-centering in the things which mean the most to us.  My word for 2018 is T R U S T.  I like having a word to ponder and work with, versus a long list of resolutions.  I’m learning to trust my own intuition more and more.  A real gift of this stage of one’s life.

Tomorrow the hub and I head west for a couple of days by the ocean in between our busy work schedules.  Like a landlocked mermaid, I can already taste the salt air and am deeply looking forward to hearing the waves crashing.

“Dance upon the shore; What need have you to care for wind or water’s roar?”  ~W. B. Yeats

Keep an eye out in the usual posty places (IG , Twitter) for drawings and musings as we travel.  Wishing you the brightest of New Year’s offerings.  May it be all we hope it can be.  And more than we could ever have dreamed of.

 

 

On Midwinter

Solstice dawns bright and beautiful.  I head outside with a hot cup of coffee and three eager dogs and marvel at the pink light on a lovely sycamore across the creek from us.  I snap a little photo with the ever present phone, as you do in this day and age.

Just after capturing the image, I hear crows calling and they fly into the frame with the same sycamore and I think that would have been a nice photo as well, but I merely stand and watch them fly and listen to a snippet of their airborne conversings amongst one another.

The dogs snuffle around on the ground, surely on the trail of deer, fox or coyote who wander in the night.

After a bit I am chilled (and so is my coffee) so we head inside.  I check the usual electra-outlets of things and am thankful for a well curated online sphere.  There will be news when I decide to take on the days’ burnings, but for this morning, which is Solstice, I opt to seek beauty for a bit.  To sift my intake through the lens of loveliness.

The Splendid Table did a piece a while ago on the country of Georgia and it’s culinary traditions.  They discussed which foods would be presented, and how they might be served (in lots of lovely small dishes), and that often, between courses, those at table might take to singing.  This morning I am once again reminded of Georgian singing via a post by a musical acquaintance.  And now, thanks to him, these lovely singers are in my ears as I ponder the still point in the turning of the world.  Somehow these minored harmonies are a fitting soundtrack to the day.

We must be so very careful what we feed ourselves just now.  There is so much work to be done in the world.   On some days, the prospect of shifting the huge paradigms which must be shifted if we are to survive, seems insurmountable.  Music, powerful art, the magic of poetry all serve to shore us up and supplement our souls during these dark days.  Nourishment.

I’m grateful for the gatherers of words who keep me nourished online.  Here are just a couple of examples…..

Shapechangers in Winter (excerpt)

This is the solstice, the still point
of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath, the door
of a vanished house left ajar.
Taking hands like children
lost in a six-dimensional
forest, we step across.
The walls of the house fold themselves down,
and the house turns
itself inside out, as a tulip does
in its last full-blown moment, and our candle
flares up and goes out, and the only common
sense that remains to us is touch,
as it will be, later, some other
century, when we will seem to each other
even less what we were.
But that trick is just to hold on
through all appearances; and so we do,
and yes, I know it’s you;
and that is what we will come to, sooner
or later, when it’s even darker
than it is now, when the snow is colder,
when it’s darkest and coldest
and candles are no longer any use to us
and the visibility is zero: Yes.
It’s still you. It’s still you.
—Margaret Atwood

via Shippenverse over on Instagram

and….

I heard a bird sing In the dark of December.

A magical thing And sweet to remember.

‘We are nearer to Spring Than we were in September,’

I heard a bird sing In the dark of December.

– Oliver Herford

via @FintryTrust over on Twitter

The second quote was shared on Twitter by a young naturalist I follow over in Ireland named Dara McAnulty.  Dara keeps a blog of his outdoor adventures and he is passionate about the world.  He and his siblings offer a glimmer hope for the future of humanity.

I am grateful for my fellow image makers who sprinkle their visual magic around like a healing fairy-dust of sorts.

In her tweet accompanying this gorgeous image, artist Rima Staines writes, “Merry Yule to you all! Here’s to the coming of the strange masked mummers through the snow-bound village, playing music to sing the light back up out of the dark belly of the world.” Indeed. Her work has kept many of her fans, myself included, spellbound for many a season. You can find more of her work at the Hedgespoken Shop.

This past year has been a tumultuous one for much of the world.  I find myself in somewhat of a dystopic frame of mind and have had to work quite hard to remain above the fray psychologically.  (thank you yoga and the well worn running paths of this here village.) 

I wonder, how can I better be of service?  How can things change, in part by the actions of small players like myself in the great theater of the world, when our leaders collectively seem hell bent on a path to destruction on the backs of the vulnerable? 

I find myself questioning the very systems I once believed undeniable.  (I’m looking at you Capitalism.)  How can we operate in this world more lightly, how can we exchange work and energy and our livelihoods in a more just way?  There are many forging a new path and I find myself becoming a part of that conversation.  I choose bartering when I can to the notion of cold hard cash.  I read and listen to the words of fellow artisans and writers asking the same hard questions such as Amanda Palmer, Eloïse Sentito, and Ayana Young.   All the while, holding on tight to the tail of my work, even when it can feel a bit senseless at times.

It is the season of Christmas parties.  At our local illustrators gathering, a few of us talked of how the very act of making books for children is a political one.   We tuck the seeds of kindness and compassion in-between the lines and in the imagery of work for children, be that picture books, traditional fairy tales or puppetry.   Crafting beauty for the next generation feels like a radical thing indeed these days.  Perhaps they will rise up and be the leaders we need.  Kind.  Compassionate.

My beloved day-job fellows at Carroll Concertinas gathered for dinner last night and talked of the past year’s work.  On average, we produce 24 handcrafted, high end concertinas each year.  We make all of the parts ourselves and piece them together into these amazing instruments.  Our boss and dear friend Wally commended us on our craftsmanship and acknowledged the many other gifts and skills we bring to the table collectively as artists and musicians and fellow human beings.  In a some small way, to do this kind of work, at this intimate level, is also a somewhat radical notion.  I do not take the gift of this lightly and am deeply grateful.  Would that everyone in the world has work which challenges them and makes them happy and compensates them deeply on many levels.  That is a world I can wrap my weary brain around.

These are my ponderings on this day, the Solstice, the very time when we catch our breath as the world turns back toward the light.  May this metaphor come to pass in the coming months.  May we all have the courage to follow the light home to ourselves and to each other.  May the mere act of following this light be seen for the very brave thing it is.

And one more musical nudge…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mode of Magic Making

Life’s pendulum slowly begins to swing back to a quieter state.  Only a smattering of art-related events left to attend to and soon the art work will come home to roost once again where it belongs.  Well, most of it.  Some small things have sold and will be finding their way to forever homes which feels like an accomplishment of sorts.

Last night, upon returning home myself from an evening of sharing a few tunes with my musical mates, the headlamps of my car alight upon a great buck who has come to pay us a visit.  He is regal and quite stately, taking his time crossing the little bridge over our creek.

Today I look for evidence of his brief visit, as he is quite magical and a brain entranced by hours of music can often see things which are not of this world.

I find the evidence in what is left of our recent snow fall, a track across the bridge where my dogs stop to have a sniff of this wild creature’s path.

Playing around with ‘watercolor graphite’ I attempt to draw the buck.

In my drawing he is bulky and strange, but I find myself excited to use this medium which I purchased awhile back and have not yet used much.

Rustiness seems to be the name of the game lately as I have been presenting and exhibiting, showing and teaching, meeting and greeting.  A dear friend of mine remarked at my last opening that he could see why I am not a fan of art openings in general (even the fun ones!) because it’s as if ‘you were just getting swallowed by people’.  Which feels true.

I am eager to get back to the magic of making.

I have recommitted with a vengeance to the act of daily sketching and outings with our newly sanctioned Urban Sketchers of Cincinnati group are just the ticket to get the pen moving across the page once more.

Though it’s painfully crowded, I manage a warm up sketch at first.

And then a bit later, settle into a quieter place, with a more fantastical little structure to draw.

The rusty drawing skills begin to come to life and I feel the gears slowing down in my bones with pen to paper.  It is strangely familiar and I am grateful for years of practice which don’t ever truly leave me.

I finish the sketch at home later that evening with a bit of color.

Our Urban Sketchers group is open to anyone who wants to get out and draw so do join us if you are in the area.  I promise we are quite friendly and do not bite unless provoked.

This is a indeed a magical time of year.  With the Solstice nearly upon us, in theory we begin to witness a return of light, though the world seems very dark indeed just now.  To combat this darkness, we must make magic in our own way.

Over in the land of Twitter, writers Julia Bird and Robert MacFarlane have cooked up a plan for the internet to co-read the novel The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper.  We begin December 20th, the very same day the story begins, and I am excited to be a part of it.  Reading a beautiful classic is a balm in these dire times.

I am inspired by dear friends who have been making magic in the world in very special ways.  The first, someone I hike and paddle with, has a job in the world of retail where she knows how to line up deals and coupons to make things quite affordable. She uses this super-power to purchase new coats for those in need to donate to the coat drive at a local charity.  This is especially wonderful for the rough and tumble little boys who are so very hard on their coats and therefore gently used coats are few and far-between.  I marvel at her spirit of generosity and urge others good at shopping in the world to consider doing something similar.

Another friend has been crafting and conjuring magic in his own way and a few of us closest to him have been presented with a wondrous gift indeed.

A wand.  I have other wands.  Those with paint-brush tips.  But this is a whole new animal indeed.  It is a branch of elm, sanded and shaped and bedecked with a gorgeous calligraphy nib for writing and drawing….

It makes lines like a dream.  At the other end of this wonderful wand is a little reminder of where my heart lies…

I am truly blessed to know people who play music, make art, walk ever so gently in this world.  I aim to be one of them.

Meanwhile, unbelievably (inconceivable?)

It has been 10 years of making magic here in this little online world of mine.

“Creativity is really the structuring of Magic.” 

~ anne kent rush

This anniversary time feels momentous.  Seismic in its shifting of my work and my thinking and life in general.  I look back on the woman who started this blog ten years ago and I know that I have grown and changed.

Around the same time as this blog was getting going, I got my very first tattoo.  A moth, rooted.  That tattoo has served me well for many years and the symbolism still resonates with me to this day.  That said, it had faded a bit and had grown a little tired.  When my daughter (now about to turn 21 which here in this country means one is a fully fledged adult) suggests we get tattoos together, I decide to use this opportunity to reinvest in the moth design.

Her idea is to get ferns, each in our own way, to our own liking.  Ferns are all about unfurling into one’s true majesty, which I think we both are doing just now as human beings.

She knew right away what she wanted and so, she goes first.

 

Simple, graphic, hipster.  Very her.  We both love it.

A few weeks on I come to the idea of reworking my moth and proceed to Flying Tiger Tattoo where my friend and fellow artist Megan Butler works.  She comes up with a way to reinvigorate my beloved luna moth, while incorporating the ferns.  She also nurtures the root ball of the design, adding in mushrooms to aid this forest inspired work of art, brightening and delineating the roots, giving them room to breathe.  I simply could not be happier with it.

It is earthy, bright and beautiful.  Colorful and confident.  No longer fading.  It is more cohesive than the original, more well thought out.  It may yet be added to.  It is a rich environment for new growth to occur. 

All of these things feel applicable to myself just now.  Which as I look back on this time last year, fills me with a relief I cherish.  This season finds me filled with so much less anxiety and depression, having worked exceptionally hard to shift back into a yoga routine, once again going back to eating vegetarian.  Self care and overall health are great gifts indeed.  They add to the magic making, at least around here.

And speaking of magic, here are a few more tidbits to share.

Magic in the littlest moments.  Noticing. Placing attention on these things….

One of my all time favorite characters in any book is Tiffany Aching.   She is a young witch, who is, among other things, “good with cheese.”  I like to think she’d be rather proud of my first foray into making cheese.  This time, a simple paneer.

And lastly, I leave you with my efforts from the month of October.  At the last minute, I opted to take part in “inktober”, putting together an alphabet of creatures as a way to get to know my new fountain pen.  It was great fun and I hope to have sets of post cards to share with you in time for the holidays.  Prints of individual animals are also available. 

*special thanks to my dear and wonderful friend who has allowed me to use her music in my videos over the years.  Kim Taylor, you are the very vision of friendship.  I love you.

 

This is Love

 

It is the day before the complex holiday we call Thanksgiving here in this country.  A holiday fraught with colonial baggage of things we must eventually confront as a nation if we are to move forward.  A holiday also fraught with the tradition of meal-time “discussions” in the realm of religion and politics, which if NPR is any indication, are to be dreaded.

That all said and acknowledged and considered, it is also one of my favorite days of the year.  Aside from a few years when we traveled with our daughter for Irish Dancing competitions, I have inherited the keeping of this day from my Grandma Kelley.  I even have the old roasting pan for the turkey.

We don’t make a huge fuss over things.  We here in our house cover the turkey, gravy, cookies and pies.  And the sides and sundries come from the rest of the family.  My niece Riley is bringing Thanksgiving bingo which warms my heart. (and some friends and foods as well!)

The kids are beginning their orbit home.  One has laundry going and is binge watching the Great British Bake Off.  We discuss the importance of a rue in a decent gravy….. (and yes, onions)

There is still enough dog hair floating around on the floor to knit up yet another dog and so there is still work to be done.  But we are on target.  It always has a way of coming together.

The pie crusts are resting, the whipped cream is crafted and the cookies are baked….

All of this is wrapped in love and gratitude.

We live in tumultuous times.  But we also are hopefully surrounded by people we love.  May this season bring gifts of gratitude and nourishment as we navigate the future.

Love and gratitude to you all.

This Is Love, by George Harrison….

Vicious words drift away from their meanings
And the sun melts the chill from our lives
Helping us all to remember what we came here for
This is love
This is la la la la love
This is love
This is la la la la love
Little things that will change you forever
May appear from out of the blue
Making fools of everybody who don’t understand
This is love
This is la la la la love
This is love
This is la la la la love
This is love, this is love
This is love, this is la la la la love
Since our problems have been our own creation
They also can be overcome
When we use the power provided free to everyone
This is love
This is la la la la love
This is love
This is la la la la love
This is love
This is la la la la love
This is love
This is la la la la love
Songwriters: George Harrison / Jeff Lynne
This Is Love lyrics © The Bicycle Music Company

 

Icarus Tendencies

“Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.”    ~D.W. Winnicott

It’s so tempting to run for the hills.  To hide.  To make the work, but never show it – feeling it to be not good enough, not ready enough, ever.  But this is not an option really.  And so we forge on.

“Always go a little further into the water than you feel you are capable of being in.  Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about at the right place to do something exciting.”                                                                                       ~David Bowie

After a time of being comfortably down the proverbial rabbit hole, alas, I must come up for air and here is the latest.  Like some sort of proverbial Icarus, I’ll admit to flying a bit close to the sun of late.  But needs must, and rest will come…..

On top of readying my own art work to present to the world, I have also been doing some writing on the work of others.  The September and October issues of the online publication Aeqai feature articles of my impressions on some really wonderful locally produced and curated work from lands far away.  It has been interesting to pull together art and writing in this way, as I usually write merely here on my blog or craft the odd artist’s statement now and again.  To write about the artwork of others and to ponder it through a lens of critique is to more fully grasp it in a sense.  Knowing I was to be writing about these shows made me a better viewer of them.  I hope to continue writing for Aeqai in future months, adding my voice to those of others shining light upon recent work they have seen.

And what about that work being presented to the world?  Well, the stars have aligned to see my work showing in three different venues in the coming weeks, and here they are.

Transience is the force of time that makes a ghost of every experience.”  ~John O’Donohue

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”  ~Simone Weil

First, Transience, a solo show at the Park National Bank Gallery at University of Cincinnati’s Clermont campus.  It’s a lovely space and I’m thrilled to have a number of older works dusted off from the archives and showing once again, right alongside some newer work as well.  (Yes, the ever so popular Animal Alphabet from Inktober is being displayed in full and the drawings look great all together!)  At the heart of the show is my process of gathering from the world and from my experiences to create art along the way in sketchbooks and finished studio work.

Years of sketchbooks showcasing travels and artistic process can be seen in these glass cases in the gallery. It’s gratifying to see them all together.

It is interesting to see threads of continuity in work through the years which I didn’t notice before.  For example, I’m once again showing my painting Selkie which is a bit of a self-portrait-meets-personal-mythology work.

You’ll notice that Selkie offers a rather raw heart to the viewer (my mom has always thought this painting is rather creepy but I rather like her).  What I didn’t realize is that I had created some of this same imagery in the three dimensional realm as well in the form of a hand stitched fiber heart, and a cast of my hand in plaster.

These objects were part of other work at other times and I hadn’t realized how they mirrored the Selkie imagery until I went to install this show.  My subconscious self clearly has some ideas and themes  working themselves out amidst its subterranean depths.  I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to this work once again, on a deeper level and to share it with the students at UC Clermont.

A second show to open with just one piece of mine in it is an artistic tribute to the writings of Neil Gaiman.

Poster by David Micheal Beck

I crafted an illustration of Nobody Owens from Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book which I found so captivating.  I am excited to have my little painting alongside those of other illustrators from around town and am honored to be a part of the show!

An Intimate Portrait of Nobody Owens, Oil on Paper

This show opens this week on Thursday evening.  Stop by the Know Theatre if you are in town and say hello! (Be sure and get your tickets to Neverwhere as well!)

Last but not least, I am thrilled to once again have new work being shown at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center.

My painting I Grew A Pair (Apples)  will be part of the Off The Wall installation and I have three other works submitted as well.  This group show features new work by members of the Kennedy Collective and is an annual treat for the local community.  That opening is November 18.  There will be cookies.  I can promise that.

By tomorrow I shall have all work delivered and by next week, all will be properly installed for viewing in their gallery spaces for the following few weeks.  While this all has taken a good amount of time and effort to pull off, I have been careful not to fall into the mindset of busy in the midst of pulling it all together.  And I believe I have been successful in that endeavor.  Sylvia Linsteadt of Tatterdemalion fame posted an article the other day about the notion of Resisting the Commodification of Time, with which I firmly agree on every level.  The article speaks to a level of mindfulness which I believe is desperately lacking in our world just now.  Everything so fast and furious, so new and shiny.  Mindfulness is at the very heart of my sketchbook practice and the workshops I teach.  Just the simple act of slowing down to draw something pulls us back into a better relationship with time, back into our bodies.  The world needs us to do this work.

Mindful
by Mary Oliver

Every Day
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It is what I was born for—
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world—
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant—
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these—
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

And so we do.  If you google “urban sketching”, you will see that the practice of drawing in a little book has truly gone globally viral.  People all over the world are doing it.  Here in the Queen City of Cincinnati, we have joined the ‘official’ ranks of Urban Sketchers and are getting our drawings out there along with other artful places such as Manchester and Hong Kong.  If you are coming to town and are looking to sketch with us here, let us know!!  We can be found over in the wonderful online world of Twitter and we’d love to meet you!

And that is all for now.  I have ghostly beings creeping into my bedtime sketchbook lately who are begging to be fleshed out further into more oil paintings.  I have knitting projects sitting idle as well which could use some finishing up.  It’s a time of year for walking in the woods amidst the fallen leaves, brewing more and more tea, and gently, ever so gently, slowing down.

 

New Joy

The fox design I was playing with is not my own, but is the logo of a lovely coffee shop and cafe in Columbus where my daughter attends University. It is called Fox in the Snow and we enjoy visiting there when I am in town.  She even gave me a cup from there which I treasure and is a sturdy vehicle for my morning tea. 

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.

More soon!

 

The Tale of Two Apples

Across the arc of a number of seasons, we have had the difficult and expensive task of removing some trees who had lost the battle with time or the emerald ash borer and who might be a danger to our house if a brisk wind were to kick up.  I have been asking the land what it needs ever since.

This little patch of land carries on and begins the path to recovery via nature’s vigilant first responders, the fungi.  It is magnificent to see them crop up just where they are needed.  I merely observe.

One of the trees which seemed to be asking for a place here back in spring time was apple.  It all seemed like a grand experiment back then, which perhaps it was – for due to deer and other challenges to those early flowers and fruit we harvested a mere two apples.

This is the only tree that was left with any apples (damn deer!!) and it looked a bit like a fair-weather Charlie Brown tree.

I watched our little trees grow in spite of the challenges they faced, and wondered if what fruit they were yielding might yet be left riddled with worms as the gentlemen at the nursery were so keen to tell me.  It is a risk I’ve been willing to take.

One day the apples let me know they were ready to come inside by nearly tumbling into my hand when I checked on them.  And so I brought them in and pondered their beauty for a couple of days.

They were so beautiful and as their were only two, I decided to paint their portrait for posterity.  For who knew what would lie within.

‘I Grew A Pair (Apples)’. Oil on panel. Cheeky title, I know. I couldn’t resist!

I gently peeled and cored the apples, gathering every last juicy morsel from them.  I’ve never been so thankful for apples.

As luck would have it, they were nearly spotless!  And I felt a deep sense of pride in them.

I made a pie crust (mine is an all-butter sort, my favorite, though tricky to pull off if you lack any patience) and cooked up the apples with a combination of a number of recipe-like ideas.  Mostly simple – things like a bit of sugar, cinnamon, freshly ground nutmeg.  And put the two together into some mini pies……

They baked up beautifully and are now awaiting our after dinner treat time.  We are not, generally speaking, dessert eaters.  But I think for tonight we may have to indulge.

I must figure out a different fencing situation for next season to further protect my young trees from the mindless suburban deer who seem to have nothing better to do than wreck ones gardening dreams.  But for now I am thrilled to have had even a small (intimate, really) harvest to bake into some delectable delights to savor.

part rabbit warren, part spin on art & life & etc. art, illustrations & workshops by amy bogard