Harp Gathering

Today my harpist friend Jeni invited me to attend a gathering of fellow harpers called a Harper’s Robin. There were 16 harp players of varying levels who were playing music together in preparation for an upcoming concert at the library.

That many harps in one room makes an impressive sound. But it is more than just the music that one hears, it is the vibration that can be felt as the music moves through the room. As a whistle player, it occurred to me that the effect of that many whistles playing in one room would have a completely different acoustic effect!

One of the cool things they did was an improvisational exercise called White Strings. Harpists use color on their strings to help delineate which notes can be found on what string. In the White Strings exercise, the players decide on a time signature and tempo and then play any note, as long as it is a white string. All of the notes “go” together magically creating a piece of music that happens then and there, never to be repeated.

Harps are not only lovely to listen to but really beautiful instruments as well. They are like sculptures, each one different from the next and I enjoyed doing a few rough sketches of the musicians and their instruments.

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After the harp gathering I drove over to Homemeadow Song Farm to catch the last bit of the “Honey Bee Mine” sale. Artisans were selling beeswax candles, honey, and pottery just in time for Valentine’s Day. My friend and stellar-multi-instrumentalist Doug told me that there are some connections between honey bees and harp makers. I am guessing that there is some connection to the beautiful vibration made by a well made harp and that of a thriving hive of honey bees. This bears more investigation for sure.

traveling shoes

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I am still working off the images and thinking that were with me in Olympia. There is a great line in a song by the Be Good Tanyas called The Littlest Birds. “…you pass through places and places pass through you but you carry them with you on the soles of your traveling shoes.” I think this idea is true. Travel, even the smallest trips, has a way of changing a person in small ways. For me, I often feel more alive and awake after a trip. Getting out of town causes me to pay attention to my surroundings a bit more. This is important therapy for a visual artist.

There is a dog in Olympia named Sakima who is a real gem. I took a few snapshots of him while out there this time so I could sketch him a bit when I got home. He has a beautiful wolf-like quality to him, as well as a gentle and open spirit.

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One of the souveneirs I like to pick up whenever I am anywhere in the Pacific North-“wet” are the lovely beach pebbles that can be found just about anywhere on the coast. I love to draw them. The colors are endless in scope and I find them beautiful to look at and place around my house in bowls. Often a visitor to my house will ask, “so what’s with the rocks?…”

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The Little Town of Spirals

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As I may have mentioned before, I have always loved the idea of making a children’s picture book. I have a few ideas as well as a few sketches and figure that at some point, I’ll focus in on a specific project and make it happen. When that time comes, I won’t have to look far for advice on how to get the job done.

My friend and fellow Irish Musician here in Cincinnati, Cindy Mayti has been navigating the birthing process of her first children’s book called The Little Town of Spirals. Inspired by her travels in Ireland, Cindy’s book features a town where spirals are everywhere and readers, young and old alike, can look for repeating patterns in the town as well as in nature.

It has been so exciting to check in with Cindy as she received copies of what the pages would look like; the printing and the layout. She has described the entire process as something like getting married and giving birth all in the same fell swoop!

So even though I am feeling a little sluggish in my own art-making in recent weeks (ah the quiet beauty of winter time!) I am fortunate to be constantly surrounded by other artists from whose work I can take a bit of inspiration. Congratulations to Cindy and to every artist who is seeing hard work come to such measurable fruition.

I think I’ll go draw a sleeping dog…

Landing Gear

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There are some places in the world to which I feel rooted ; places where I feel tremendously at home. Being something of a Gypsy at heart, I pretty much make myself at home any place, but there are a few particularly special places I love most of all.

The Belgrade Lakes region in Maine is one. My family and I go there every summer to “fill our cups” and spend some time with people we love as family and miss when we’re away. Elkins, WV is another place I love, where my son and I go for Irish Music immersion. I like to think of our time in Elkins as being like the faerie stories where an unsuspecting traveler stumbles upon a magical land where time flows differently, music is the only food one needs, and the real world just melts away…at least for a week.

I have spent the past few days out on the west coast in Olympia, WA. I have some dear friends who live out there so I took the opportunity to visit. Olympia has become one of those places for me over the years as I have visited quite often. There are more shades of green there (even in winter!) than my watercolor set can possibly manage. The coffee is outstanding; my favorite is Batdorf and Bronson’s downtown.

There is also a very friendly dog culture in Olympia. Many school teachers actually take their dogs to school with them to spend time with their students. One of these is Jinx who works in the 5th grade classroom at McKenny Elementary school. Jinx is tiny, probably a dachshund chihuahua mix of some sort, and such a gentle little soul.

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My friends who live in Olympia are lucky to have a bit of land around their house and so they have any number of animals both inside and out at any given time. My favorite this go round was Curly, a Peruvian Guinea Pig who belongs to Olivia. I always thought of guinea pigs as sort of skittish but Curly is peace personified. Zen Pig, if you will.

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Coming home from a trip is stressful. Reality and normalcy come crashing back at me and I can get a little overwhelmed and depressed if I’m not careful. However, years of traveling have taught me a little bit about what I think of as my “landing gear”. Allowing myself a little extra time and space, coffee and friendship in my first day or two back can often prevent my formerly predictable “break up on re-entry”. Add to that my beloved family that cleaned the house for my arrival and this trip’s re-entry has been pretty smooth.

I am glad to be home, surrounded by my awesome family, my rambunctious dogs, and back in my studio where I can get to work on drawing some of the dogs I met and pebbles I collected while in Olympia.

mapping the unmappable

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Here’s the dragonfly I embroidered inspired by the real one I have preserved in my freezer. Although this isn’t the greatest scan of it, I am pleased with how it turned out. It is subtle on it’s black background (I plan to wear this scarf and don’t like to be too awfully gaudy with my accessories!). I was also able to give it just enough iridescent sparkle to allude to the real thing, which is why one reason I think dragonflies are so enchanting in the first place.

Often I find myself following what I think of as “threads”. These are ideas or concepts that interest me, but perhaps for no currently apparent reason. When this happens I’ll google the interest, or better yet, hit the downtown library and look up books that are related to it in some way. Since dragonflies were on my mind the other day, not only did I draw one with thread, but I looked up the symbolism behind them, and what that wisdom might offer. What I found seemed fitting, like maybe I needed to read it and was meant to find it…

Meanwhile, another promising thread I am currently following is cartography. Both an art and a science, the study and production of maps gives people what they feel is a firm understanding of a particular place. What I am interested in is the deeper meaning behind the concept of a map. Can we map time? Experiences? What might that look like? And what about the places in our minds. Herman Melville wrote “It is not on any map; true places never are.” I am interested in reinterpreting existing maps, creating maps of the unmappable.

This is where my thinking is on this drippy, gray (but thankfully, somewhat unseasonably mild!) day. It feels invigorating to be in research mode. Fostering new ideas always puts a spring in my step. We’ll see how this manifests in the studio….

Breathe Deep, Seek Peace

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The other day I offered these words to a friend of mine who is going through a tumultuous time of change and difficulty. I actually read this quote years ago in a book my son and I were reading together about the island of Dinotopia, a magical world where dinosaurs and people live a near utopic existence. In the books,one person (or dinosaur) says “breathe deep” as a form of greeting, which is then responded with “seek peace.”

The books about Dinotopia are poetically written and beautifully illustrated by James Gurney. Plenty of samples of his work are on his website (linked above) but nothing beats curling up in a big comfy chair and losing yourself in the world he has created in his books. They are a feast for the senses down to every last detail.

What I enjoy most in these books besides the images themselves, is the peaceful feeling that pervades the world of Dinotopia. It’s enough to make one want to live there. That said, I can’t help seeing a connection between the philosophy of Gurney’s peaceful world and the philosophy behind the basic tenets of Yoga and meditation. Perhaps we can create just a bit of that peace within, and just around, ourselves here in our world, if we take a moment to breathe deep…. and seek peace.

What’s bugging me

This dang cold weather, that’s what! But even though it has been in the single digits, my fibery friend (and fellow Irish Musician Diva) Jeni Westerkamp and I managed to venture out for a trip to St. Theresa’s Textile Trove. St. Theresa’s is one of the many things that make Cincinnati a great place to be an artist. There are beads, fabrics, jewelry, embroidery thread – all made of wonderful, true materials such as cottons, silk, bone, stone, wool, and much more.

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I bought some silk embroidery thread to add to my stash and I plan to embroider another bug. Those who have known me long enough know that I have a thing for bugs, especially the more dramatic ones. In my freezer I have a number of collected bugs (I always gather them post-mortem, just in case you were wondering) awaiting to be rendered in some form or fashion in the future. I think I am in the mood to embroider a dragonfly, perhaps onto my new black silk scarf….

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One of my favorite embroideries I ever made was also of a bug; a luna moth that was found in Elkins, WV while a bunch of us were at the Augusta Heritage Center for Irish Week. There seem to be all kinds of beautiful moths in the mountains of Elkins and I mentioned that the one moth I had always wanted to catch a glimpse of, but never had was a luna moth. My friend Sherry told me there just happened to be a perfect specimen on the wall of her dorm and so I collected it. It had already died what seemed to have been a painless death, as it was indeed a perfect specimen, like it had simply laid down and died.

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Below is what I wound up embroidering. I made a quilt with this image on it and whenever I catch sight of it on my bed, a small part of me is taken back to the magic that is Augusta.

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pictures speak louder

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I’ve been in a quiet, hibernative mode the past few days where pictures seem more interesting than words. Although I haven’t written much, I have been drawing. Above is a daily dog. I have been trying to capture Iris’s wise and worried look she has in her eyes. I have yet to be successful.

Over the MLK holiday, we spent the afternoon in downtown Cincinnati for ice skating and a trip up 48 stories to the top of Carew Tower. It was a bit chilly down on the square, especially in the shade, but I still had to get a sketch of the lovely, newly refurbished fountain.

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teachers

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There are many different kinds of teachers. At the Riley School of Irish Music, my first teacher was Simone, who at the time was only 14. Although I have now outgrown her class and have moved up a level, I still look to her for musical tidbits, suggestions and nuances to make my own playing better. I hope that someday my playing has half the skill and soul that hers does. With my move to the more advanced class, I have had the great fortune of meeting each week with John Skelton, who is not only an incredible whistle, flute and pipes player, but an inspirational teacher as well. I leave his classes, just as I did Simone’s, feeling capable; hopeful in my own ability to pick things up and improve. This is the magic of a good teacher.

Another talented teacher I know is my friend and fellow artist Lisa Siders. I have never taken a class of Lisa’s but she and I have had many chats about teaching philosophy and I have looked to her recently for guidance in structuring my own class at the Art Academy. She also has taught me more skills than I can count simply in passing or in working together. I can only imagine how inspired her students are and hope I can achieve that same level of teaching magic myself.

Today we went for a frigid walk in the woods near our house. It was the first time the pups had been in an off leash situation and so I was hopeful that Caskie would be able to guide them in the proper walk protocol; i.e.- not running away into the woods. Although I was a little on guard, I trusted my instincts and let the lot of them off their leashes and began to walk. My doggie intuition about Caskie paid off. He came to me whenever I asked him to… so did the puppies. He “waited up” whenever I asked him to… soon the puppies were doing the same. They were looking to him for cues in this new situation and he was being a good teacher.

Teachers, and learners, can be found everywhere, if we are open to being a teacher or a learner ourselves. I learned as much in art school from my fellow students and friends as I did from the many wonderful professors I was fortunate to have. My hope is that in the coming weeks, as I head into the classroom as teacher, I will also have the open mind of a learner. Then, just maybe, I’ll be as inspirational a teacher as the teachers I have known in my life.

reconnecting

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Recently I have felt the familiar feeling of being in a bit of a rut. It is winter time with dark, cold weather, so maybe this is to be expected. But I try not to wallow in it for long. These ruts usually accompany a time when I am busy in all aspects of my life except the art and suddenly I glance at my sketchbook and realize that perhaps days have gone by since I have drawn anything. This is not acceptable.

With the Art Academy sketchjournal class a go in February, I am conscious of needing to have something to show my students. Sure, there are years of journals and I will bring these to share, but there is nothing more magical than the current book being lugged around in my back pack everyday, collecting tidbits from my daily life. It’s important work. This is what the point of the class is after all.

So today I took some much needed time to re-engage my poor lonely sketchbook. I drew some dogs, wrote about and drew my cool new bird feeder (those little dudes actually eat while upside down, it’s really pretty cool). I wrote down a couple of quotes I found inspiring (my favorite was “What is truer than truth? The Story.” wow. Here’s where I found the link to it originally… another wow.) and glued in a picture of magnified carrot seeds I found on the National Geographic website. It has been a busy day.

Nearing the end of it, I feel the rut sensation lifting just a bit. I am getting ready to cook a yummy meal for a friend who counts among his skills the tuning of errant piano keys. I plan to light a fire in the fire place. Life is good. My sketchbook helps me see that.

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