“My fashion philosophy is, if you’re not covered in dog hair, your life is empty.” – Elayne Boosler
My grandparents had been married for 64 years when they died less than three days apart from one another. Something about this closeness in the timing of their passing brought us a small semblance of comfort in a time of great chaos and grief. I look to that phenomenon to help us through the latest news here in this dark winter of doom (as honestly, it’s beginning to feel like lately).
Alas, this morning our dear old dog, our Wild Iris Rose, finally succumbed to her recent illness and is now at home in the stars with River, the accidental and constant companion of her lifetime. I think dogs are more like people than most folks give them credit for. Iris especially, with her wise eyes and knowing look.
“I love my dog as much as I love you
But you may fade, my dog will always come through”
Perhaps she simply couldn’t be on this plane without River. I do not know, as this is the depth of mystery, this ‘why’ of everything. I have always thought Iris knew more about the ‘why’ of everything, and perhaps now she does.
So much of the content in this lowly old blog has been devoted to the dogs in my life over the years. The puppies came along shortly after I began this online diarizing, and they fit right into it all with their antics and photogenic, sketchable qualities.
Even with all the complexities having multiple dogs brings to a household, I wouldn’t trade any of it. Even these final, messy weeks. Dogs remind us of our own innate physicality and, of course, our mortality. They are constant reminders of the following:
We mustn’t take ourselves too seriously.
Time is of the essence. The moment is now.
To be joyful is a gift, and it’s ours for the taking at any moment.
Love with abandon.
When you rest, just give into it, like it’s your job.
Give your keen attention to anything you find interesting.
Take a walk. Everyday. Twice if possible.
Love your fellow beings. Even when you find them to be curiosities quite unlike yourself.
“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born”.
“But then I looked in your eyes
And I was no more a failure
You looked so wacky and wise
And I said, lord I’m happy
’cause I’m just a walkin’ my dog
Singin’ my song
It’s just me and my dog
Catchin’ some sun
We can’t go wrong
’cause I don’t care ’bout your hatin’ and your doubt
And I don’t care what the politicians spout
If you need a companion
Well just go right to the pound
And find yourself a hound
And make that doggie proud
’cause that’s what it’s all about”
You can imagine the quiet state of things around here. I honestly don’t know quite what to do with myself. So here I am, writing, which strangely, is what I do in times of crisis. There is a nap of escape in my future. I’ll take Charlie with me, and maybe the cat too (but that’s up to him). Beyond that, I am doing my best to simply make space for this grief. A grief that feels bigger than a couple of good dogs gone too soon. I’m giving it space, and hoping it doesn’t move in permanently in a darker, blacker form.
“The bond with a true dog is as lasting as the ties of this earth will ever be.”
Here’s to you, my wild Iris Rose. Long may you run.
PS~ As heartbroken as I am, I want to just say thank you to the vets and techs at Cincinnati Animal Medical Center. They have seen us through many a beloved pet and this time was no different. They treat us like family and I know they grieve along with us. If you are local to the Cincinnati area, I can’t recommend them enough.
Difficult to believe that at this time just last week, we found ourselves in the magical, mist-ical lands of coastal California -my hub just barely cracking through his shell of over-work, only to have to dive straight back in again. But it was good to see a glimpse of himself to be sure. I am hopeful he could be coaxed back to this real life once again soon.
It is always a strange thing to return back to our regular doings back here at home in Ohio. For me, the mark of Good Travel is that it makes for a yearning and a churning of the soul, a fire in the mind, which keeps us asking questions of ourselves about how we are living this One Wild and Precious Lifeof ours. While we balance chores and responsibilities, work and dreams of what can be, time marches on ever faster. We must make sure we are on the right track. Travel and all the soul-nudging it brings with it, is one sure way to track our proper path isn’t it?
Yesterday my daughter sent along a new song to add to a running playlist I get going each year which tends to set the tone for the up and coming Taos sketch trip. This annual trek to the high desert is a flagship workshop for me as an instructor/facilitator. And the yearly playlist often carries a loose theme through the songs which happens strangely and organically. One year it was about light, especially Golden light, as I found myself craving the sparkling quality of light that is found in places such as northern New Mexico. Yet another year the loose theme seemed to be aboutthe heart of the matter – on finding ones heart beating below the surface of all that is thrust upon us in the drudgery of the day to day.
On a whim, I sent along this new song to a dear musical friend of mine, also the parent of a young adult daughter, knowing the both of them might appreciate it. He asked how I found myself relating to this new song and it got me thinking about my playlists in general and how I use and relate to them. About why I gather songs and how they capture a moment in time. Like the old mix-tapes we might have traded around in our teens, these playlists relay a certain kind of longing. Today’s longing is a more complex, multifaceted thing than my middle school obsessions. Now, I find myself pining for wilder places versus people, be it a sea of salt-water or a sea of sage. I suppose my yearly playlists are a listing of love songs to landscapes that are out of reach to me in my daily life.
“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” ~Terry Tempest Williams
Once upon a time, I dreamed of being a scientist. I love all animals and could spend hours upon hours in observance and wonder of them. Alas, I do not have the mind of a proper scientist which remembers long and (to me) complicated names and specific facts and figures, and so my observance skills took a different path to that of artist. Now, my very favorite thing is to go to a wild place and watch, and draw, and wonder. Just a different kind of scientist really.
We had the great fortune to obtain access to a beach near Santa Cruz which the majestic elephant seals come home to for a season each year to go about the Business of Life. Here they mate, struggle for territory and status, give birth, nurture and nurse, grow and learn, rest and recuperate. We were fortunate to have a patient guide on our tour who allowed us to tarry a bit longer than other groups so as to take it all in properly.
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” ~Aristotle
And amidst all of this marvelous wildness, we had also the comfort of dear friends who welcome us to this wild land with open arms. In the evenings there was a warm fire in the hearth and plenty of tea and long over-due conversation.
The ocean and it’s splendor was a indeed big player in our whirlwind trip west. I had a run on the beach one morning and we sketched the waves. I was captivated by the variety of dogs to be found having their daily walks along the shore.
We also took part of a day to meander down the coast and visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium where we watched, entranced, the displays of Jellyfish and other watery wonders.
“Jellyfish: The sea offers up flowers of glass like thick light. They are transparent landscapes.” ~Raquel Jodorowsky
I was reminded of some old work of mine with the jellies, and vowed to come home and make more.
“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” ~Loren Eiseley
“…the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonders forever.” ~Jacques-Yves Cousteau
But the trip was not all ocean all the time. I was invited to an Irish music session at a local home of a friend of a friend of a friend, which is how it works in musical circles, and was welcomed with open arms to share a few tunes.
Welcomed with open arms is also how we felt in the Redwoods just minutes inland from the sea.
To walk and wander in a forest of these trees is to experience the notion of Cathedral. We found ourselves whispering in hushed tones out of respect. Even the local wildlife is quiet. With the trees comprised of naturally inherent tannins, they are insect-repellant, and therefore even the chatter of birds is kept to a minimum.
We sat and sketched a giant for a good long while. It was cold and quite humid.
All in all, it was a wonderful getaway. January in Ohio is not for the feint of heart. A friend of mine, also from the world of Irish music, was saying last night that while she has lived in places with reputations for the harshest weather winter can throw at us (i.e. Alaska, Montana) she has found that winter here in SW Ohio/ N. Kentucky is particularly draining for it’s gray heaviness. Difficult to convey to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, we here in this river valley trudge through the winter months as best we can, thankful for the opportunity to get out of town when we can.
I left the Hub in California to do his work and I to come home to do mine. The temperatures were in single digits upon my arrival which was shocking to the system to say the least, considering I had had my toes in the pacific ocean just days before. But, I made some little woolen boots for my smallest dog, brewed a lot of tea, and carried on.
“Have you seen the girl with the mind on fire?”
“Have you seen the girl with the heart as big as the sea?”
I am not the only one with a big heart and a mind on fire, yearning and churning for a bit of change. The world at large is calling for it as well, at least women and those who love and respect them.
This past weekend marked the 1 year anniversary of the Women’s March and we did it again. While the news didn’t make much of it, the numbers appeared to be as large if not larger this year. I was at our march here in Cincinnati and while the palpable shock of the election of a vile predator-in-chief was not as present this year, a continuing sense of outrage was.
The energy was palpable.
These strange times seem to have unleashed a free for all on many levels. On the one hand, the highest levels of power, especially in this country, are seemingly above all scrutiny. Politicians who once would have run a president out on a rail for the kinds of shenanigans ours pulls off, merely turn a blind eye and shrug off the behaviors of the current administration. I marvel. But the flip side of this coin is the notion that really, anything is possible. And I find a bit of hope in this.
I find that there is a fire in my own mind of late. The travel bug is turned on full-force by this most recent trek to the fair state of California. Guatemala is right on it’s heels, a mere 37 days away for me, with workshop participants arriving shortly there after. And there are more adventures to follow. Traveling shifts perspectives and asks us to consider hard questions. Questions such as, should we give up this little track of land, with is gardens and trees and lovely, soul-nourishing green space and quietude, for a condominium with less upkeep? Could doing so free up even more time and money for travel? Or would we regret giving up this amazing space? Do we want to even stay in Cincinnati? For me the draw of my family and friends (this includes my art and music family) is a big one. But part of me feels my studio practice could really use a daily walk in the wild, versus the familiar suburban paths here in Ohio. These are all the questions burning just now. And likely they will continue to do so for a while.
One could go a little off the rails with these ponderings, but the work will always bring me back to center. Sitting down to write a bit here settles my bones. From across the room, the paints call to be mixed up to craft some new paintings. Who knows where they will lead. Story ideas come and go, flitting and floating in clouds of doubt and fear. Rays of light amidst the dust particles. Today on this day of endless gray, I’ll follow the words, follow the paintbrush, follow the breath to whatever comes next.
Today I have taken yet another day to do things slowly, to allow a plethora of new medicinals to take hold of this winter’s cold symptoms. I stumbled upon a Keith Haring quote on the instagram page of Sketchbook Crafts which I know to be true and which I jotted into my own book, even as I chased the colors around my own sketchbook, doodling my magical canine beings.
Of late, I have pondered the notion of activism. What can we do in the times ahead which are shaping up to be very different indeed. There are those who will march together on the day following the Inauguration of the vile new leader of the free world. (Alas, I am signed up to take an art class, but my heart is with the marchers here in my town, and in DC.)
And there are those who use their fame and cultural influence for good (unlike some.)
The mere act of making some art feels like activism to me. As does teaching it to people who may think art is not theirs for the doing. Open up one’s heart to their own making and there is no telling the sea changes which can occur. In the coming weeks I am taking some remedial Spanish classes to re-learn a language I once spoke as a child. This too feels like activism. The class is in preparation for another trek down to Guatemala to do some sketching and exploring for future workshops there (stay tuned!!). But I also would like to do more volunteer work in my community with folks who might not know English yet. Small things, yes. But perhaps they can stem the tide of where the election seems to be taking us.
So today, I do what I can do. Everyday the light returns, as does my vim and vigor, and with that, some hope for better days.
It’s finally winter here, at least for now, and aside from the incessant not-quite-daylight quality of gray that permeates this time of year here, I welcome it. It’s a little trickier to find stuff to draw (and not freeze one’s fingers off) so I turn to the dogs, as is often the case. (click the pic below for a taste of what they might be dreaming of….)
Iris and River are the perfect models for sketching, unlike the zoo animals I encountered yesterday, who seemed to be constantly on the move. (but dang, aren’t they precious???)
In spite of that motion, I did get a couple sketches made of the elephants….
It was such a treat to have the zoo mostly to ourselves.
Fellow illustrator, Linda Bittner (amazing website HERE) and I made a pact to sketch at the zoo, in spite of the cold weather and we were both glad to have made the effort. We were rewarded with a warm Illustrator’s Group lunch afterwards where we shared recent work and slices of encouragement for everyone on this journey of Art as a Living. My niece LuLu stopped by for a quick hello and we all agreed she is now an honorary member of the group. (She’ll be awarded full membership when she can sit up straight in her high chair and hold her own tea cup.)
You may have met LuLu in this earlier sketch I posted on the twitter/facebook realm…
In other news, and in the interest of coming back ’round to this post’s title, I finally got my hands on the hard copy of my good friend Kim Taylor‘s new record, Love’s A Dog.
I’ve watched and listened to this body of work come to life over the last year or more and am so tickled to see it finally in print. I love my girl Kim, and her amazing music. Like many of my artist friends, she has more than one iron in the fire. This week she’s out at the Sundance film festival promoting a film in which she plays a lead role,I Used To Be Darker. There’s a ton of buzz going on about this indie film and I wish the team all the best as they strut their stuff out in Utah. Go get ’em, girlie!! (And then come home for a long walk with the dogs and a cup of coffee.)
Iris and I took a walk today in our local favorite woodsy place. While most of what you’ll see in the woods right now is grey and brown (think mud…)
There are hints of green here and there and signs that our area might be trending toward spring. This makes us very happy. Especially when the sun is shining.
And so we explored the creek bed to see what recent torrential rains had rearranged.
We discovered what some site specific local sculptors had been up to.
All of this exploration lead to a really tuckered pup.
And a hungry me. Thanks to a wonderful new friend (via another dear one – I am blessed with the best people in my life!), I have been on a bit of a smoothie kick lately. The craving for green this time of year is more than in the woods or the cold frame. It is in our very own bodies. And it’s not just me, or Julie, or my family. This trend is also alive and well across the pond where it is possibly grayer in winter than it is here. I have been admiring the work of artist Michael Nobbs recently whose blog I discovered online. His thoughts on creativity and working within one’s limits and boundaries are worth reading. Wouldn’t you know, that as I was doodling the smoothie recipe below, a twitter post comes across that his blog for today is up…. and it’s about smoothies among other things. Well Michael, I’m right there with you. Here is the Jakk’s Magic Beans Recipe that is now in my sketchbook…
This all goes in a blender and get’s good and juicy. The New York Times Style Magazine out last weekend showcased a place that sells this sort of green goodness to New Yorkers called the Juice Press. People line up around the block to get one! Yes, the trend toward green is definitely in fashion.
And so is watercolor…. This article from the Tate in the UK introduces us to a British man who painted watercolor paintings of the natural world around him. These were shown only to close friends and never sold. Only recently have they become available for viewing. According to broadcaster, naturalist and the article’s author, David Attenborough, these paintings were made for only one reason, and that is LOVE. Love of the garden, love of painting. Just love. What a great reason to do anything.
Wishing you more green and sunshine in days to come. (and some watercoloring should you be so inclined.)
“Science works with chunks and bits and pieces of things with the continuity presumed, and the artist works only with the continuities of things with the chunks and bits and pieces presumed.”
~Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance
Last week I traveled to New York City. This was only my third visit to the ginormous metropolis but it was the most relaxed visit I’ve had thus far due to a comfortable home base and a good long time to stay in town, not to mention friendly locals. The primary reason for the trip was to accompany my friend kim on a music trip but I also knew that it would afford me the opportunity for some time on my own to think, draw and write in my sketchbook. The week was filled with music, coffee, more music, amazing salads, subway rides, dog parks, more coffee, lots of thinking, writing and a bit of drawing. From an art making perspective it felt very deep and nourishing. Un-rushed, with very little schedule to adhere to, I just wandered around NYC some, watched Kim make a few new songs, and thought a great deal about art making, my career, and this balancing act called life. It occurred to me that I don’t often have so much time on my hands to think and it felt really great.
Lately I have been so wrapped up in the business of art and the teaching of art that I haven’t allowed much time for the making of art. My sketchbook is a great place to keep myself drawing and noticing the world around me, but I have not spent enough time actually working on the more conceptually sound art work that is a bit like therapy to me. It’s been months since a concept has grabbed a hold of me and begged to be made into some semblance of a body of work. A visit to the American Museum of Natural History reminded me of what makes me tick artistically. The displays at the museum are nothing short of art in and of themselves. I really loved all of the fossilized bones in the paleontology wing. I find myself looking at these collected specimens and wondering where people fit into the puzzle. We are the cause of so much extinction and yet capable of such beauty as well. This dichotomy is interesting and worth exploring through visual art. I wondered why we are compelled to make art when so much of nature is so beautiful to look at already. Like I said, deep deep stuff. But good to ponder. A bit existential maybe, but healthy over all I think.
Some early drawings….
I look forward to pouring over my photographs from AMNH and hitting the library for further inspiration. As usual, the sketchbook is capturing whatever pours out.
Besides the museum, a trip to the Tompkins Square park was another fun venture which resulted in a few dog drawings. It has been quite awhile since I have made a point to draw dogs. I suppose there is just no one to draw quite like old Caskie. But I need to get back into dog drawings. They are tremendously good exercise.
All the while I doodled and pondered the trappings of the visual art world, Kim was hard at work in the studio writing and demo-ing, meeting with important people and doing a show. It is interesting to me how much work goes into art. All forms of art are so much more process laden than most people ever realize, and music is no different.
One new song has a line in it, “What do I know?” That’s a good question. I am often so filled with questions about what’s around the bend, where to go from here, what next? etc. etc. etc. But when I think about what I do know instead of what I don’t, or even can’t know, I find some comfort.
I know that I am incredibly grateful for what I have. I know that I may love traveling but I also love coming home to my quiet little acre and the group of people that I love most. I know that I love the work I do and that while it hasn’t paid much quite yet financially, it’s rewards have been priceless in the form of growth and experience. I spend quite a chunk of my writing and thinking time contemplating the financial end of my work. While in NYC, I met up with a fellow artist who is also straddling the lines between business and art and making a go at life as a working artist. It’s an adventure ride for certain. But we plug away at work we know is important. This is all we can do.
The above quote has been on my fridge for years. It’s one of my favorites and I like to think I personify it in my life, at least part of the time. Lately I have been thinking a lot about the act of drawing and how it applies to being aware and awake and alive. A former student of mine and I have been researching creativity, its application in the work place and how the simple act of drawing can enhance, channel and release innovative thinking. It has been an exciting and overwhelming project which we hope will enable us to bring our ideas into the corporate sphere, teaching people to collect their thoughts and ideas visually, by drawing in a sketchbook.
I have been diligently working in my own sketchbook in recent weeks to practice what I preach in some sense. As school winds down into summer for the kids, my ideas are brewing for both my new project out in the “Real World”, as well as for studio plans. My family and I have spent a great deal of time outdoors recently and that has given me fuel for the sketchbook as well as for my more academic research pursuits. I am not sure how it works, (though I am currently doing a ton of reading about it) but the simple act of drawing, combined with walking and being outdoors is a magic tool for productivity and creative thinking. It is my hope that I can successfully convey this notion to folks who have never tried drawing. Drawing is one small way to be joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware. So is hiking and simply being outside. At least for me.
Here are some Daily Dog Drawings from recent weeks….
We took Iris to the Red River Gorge for a long hike on the Wildcat Trail to Dog Fork Creek. It was a great time, especially with only one dog. Caskie is a little old for such a rough hike on difficult terrain, and River is still prone to running off and making a general nuisance of himself. So we took just Iris and it was wonderful to spend the day just with her. It turns out she likes fishing. She would stare into the creek at the small minnows and then pounce on them. I think given some time, she might have caught herself one.
The day after our day trip to the Gorge, Tony and I went on a rainy kayak trip with some friends, partly so I could test drive a boat that’s my size and for sale. Paddling in the rain was surreal and sensual and I hope to do it again. The temperature was warm enough that it was not uncomfortable and we all had a great time. I am hoping to sell a couple of paintings at an upcoming show at the Art Academy so I can buy this boat…
This is Smoke. He is a greyhound belonging to a family who emailed me after reading the write-up about my dog drawings on the blog Dog Art Today. It is difficult to draw a dog (or really much of anything for that matter) from a photograph. But for me it is an interesting exercise now and then, especially when the picture is of such a graceful sinewy creature as Smoke. I much prefer drawing from life, when I occupy the same physical and temporal space as my subject. At the very least, if I draw from a photograph, I like to have been the one taking the pictures, capturing the images to study later on with my line drawings. That said, I still couldn’t resist sketching this beautiful dog. I hardly do him justice, to be sure.
I have been in the studio a bunch lately. Drawing some, gathering images to update my website gallery, working in wax, making baby gifts. I am enjoying this time immensely, especially knowing that Tornado Season (in other words, puppet season/ full time work for awhile) is right around the corner. I know that my studio time suffers in the spring as I am stretched far too thin with teaching, doing puppet shows and keeping up with my busy kids. This will be Jeni’s and my 3rd season on the road with the Red Cross’s Wind Around the Toybox production. It’s an intense season but it is just that, a season. This year, I think we see it for what it is and we are ready for the hard work and high energy level these shows demands of us. Last year we saw over 10,000 children in the Tri-State area, providing a not-so-scary approach to Tornado Safety for little people. It’s a great job and I am lucky to have it. Shows will start up in February sometime and go through May and it is during this time that I will have to fit studio art into the available little spaces I find here and there. That will have to be enough.
Until then, however, all’s quiet, except for the howling wind outside. I have a fire going in the fireplace, the wax table on means the windows have to be open and a fan on for exhaust, but I bundle up and play there while I have the opportunity.
These are a few of the New Year’s resolutions that are floating around in my head. I’m sure there will be more to come. I’m sure I’ll be successful at some more than others. But I am grateful for the coming of a new calendar year for the sense of a clean slate that it brings. Time and its passing are relative. We can turn over a new leaf anytime we feel the need to shake things up a bit. Perhaps that is my biggest hope for 2009, for myself and for others. To remember that each new day brings the same promise and opportunity that a New Year does. That each day deserves the same celebratory joy and commitment to a better life that we place upon January 1. In the end, this is the only way to really live our lives.