“We withdraw not to disappear, but to find another ground from which to see; a solid ground from which to step, and from which to speak again, in a different way, a clear, rested, embodied voice we begin to remember again as our own”
We find ourselves in Maine, where once upon a long time ago, many many lifetimes ago actually, we came as newly fledged adults to begin finding our way in the world. Much like recently hatched ducklings, we imprinted on this land then and have returned year after year in pilgrimage to this place which so shaped us in those early days. The smells, sounds, color and light here are different from all else and they speak in a soul-full tongue indeed. We are grateful to be here.
As it is a “workaday” sort of day for many of us here, I crept away to a local point to give my paint brushes a little spin, they having collected a bit of dust during my time down other, more musical pathways recently.
I found a perfect spot under a shade tree, at the end of a lane one can find only by foot. There were welcoming spots in the form of benches and water accessible paths. I opted for a space at a picnic table and set about to sketch a bit. It was clear that other artful efforts had occurred in this very space as there was evidence.
So I began with the watercolors, of course.
Eventually moving over to oils…..
…..which are not without their frustrations, but I mixed and painted and observed and corrected and painted some more. And got the bones of a painting down which I can perhaps work with later in the week once we are settled at camp.
All in all, it was lovely exercise on this, my first day back here in Maine where we are settled in for awhile, nestled by the sea.
Recent days have seen me traversing the country, jetting between varying worlds, and even escaping to far, far galaxies on occasion.
I found myself suddenly in California just over a week past, admiring the coastline and it’s intrepid surfers, breathing in the brisk sea air, sketching the magnificent scenery. Many thanks to my friend Steve who took me on a California field trip to Natural Bridges State Park.
I took a couple of days to acclimate to time and space there and to catch up with dear ones who live too far from my particular holler. We made books together.
Soon it was workshop time. The Saturday portion found us at Montalvo Center for the Arts in Saratoga, California. It was a bit chilly and there was tree work on the grounds dramatically making itself known with saws and a chipper, but we found a somewhat quiet corner to begin our day.
There was a wonderful wisteria tree which caught the eye of many of the sketchers who found their own way to interpret it. It was early in the workshop so we talked a lot about capturing color and the basics of tackling a complicated scene.
Later we went out in front of the main house where an artist’s installation of birdhouses makes one special tree very different indeed.
Alas, I did not take many photos that day, as I was too entranced by teaching!
After our sketch day, we went back to the lovely and artful home of Rosemary who hosts this event each year to visit with one another and toast the day with a bevvie or two. I even managed to have a quick tune with my friend Tim who’s family had spent the day sketching with us.
Day Two of the workshop was here before we knew it and the morning had us up and over the mountain, bundled up along the shoreline of Santa Cruz. The weather was cold that morning but this did not bother my intrepid group of sketchers! We even dodged a few rain drops!
Everyone quickly got to work. Eventually we moved places, closer to the local lighthouse and lunching spot for more drawing.
We played with color and scale. And the sun even came out for us in the afternoon. A day on the seaside is an ever changing adventure.
Soon the weekend was over, and we said goodbye to this group of amazing sketch artists who will now go forth and doodle in their own daily lives. I opted to stay an extra couple of days to do a little work in my own books. We traveled to Point Reyes Station for lunch and wandering, then headed into the hills to sketch this mystical region.
The next day found us admiring the new vine growth at a local vineyard called Savannah Chanelle. It was quiet with bird song and chickens cooing and clucking in their coop near the villa. The vintner admired my drawing and offered to trade a bottle of wine for it. But alas, it was trapped in my sketchbook. Perhaps I’ll send along a proper painting to trade for next time. The wine is quite tasty there!
Alas, soon it was time to once more travel toward home here in the Ohio River Valley. But I felt as though my teaching self was reinvigorated and reminded of it’s true purpose. I was reminded of mindfulness and how this practice is a direct line into being truly present.
This poem came to me via Shippenverse a day or so before the weekend workshops and it seemed like the perfect thoughtful intention with which to begin the time together. So we typed up a copy for each participant and gave them as little favors. I kept the one with the most typos.
I have a small thing for real typewriters. Upon returning home to Ohio, I was alerted by my Hub, who knows good things when he sees them, of this little gem awaiting me at the local antique mall. Of course I had to get it.
I suppose I might have opted to stay in California forever but alas there was a great event to attend back here at home. A number of local rebel artists banded together to craft an art show so magnificent, it was literally out of this world….. in a galaxy far, far away…..
A good time was had by all that evening and the art came in all shapes and sizes be it sculpture, painting, or cosplay. I displayed 8 tiny landscapes from this captivating world created by George Lucas and by the time I arrived, 3 had already sold. The work is on display at local rebel watering hole, Brew House here in Cincinnati through the month.
It is finally spring here. Our aging cat Ian took down a mouse the other night which surprised all of us, likely Ian most especially of all! There is finally life and blooming and even, as of today, a bit of sunshine. I have a to-do list a mile long as I gather everything needed to launch the 8th year of the Taos Illuminated Journaling workshop. This is my flagship class in this process and each year I look to it as a true indication of how things have shifted and changed over the past year and I come home once again full circle to the things I know to be central to the work. I am brimming with gratitude that this is even my job and I know I can’t do it alone. So, thank you to those intrepid souls who take a leap and attend one of my workshops – a week or a weekend, at home or abroad – Thank you.
And to my husband Tony who manages things here at home when I am away and keeps spreadsheets like a boss. My friends and family locally who step up to help him when things get crazy -Y’all know who you are. And then of course a big virtual hug to my art-pal and fellow typewriter enthusiast, Rosemary, who so loves this work as much as I do that she helps me figure out where to go next! Thank you friend. For everything.
I am really looking forward to getting back to Taos as well in a matter of weeks to the folks who make my work possible there. Friends who have become like family over the years. You are deeply appreciated. all of you.
“I travel a lot. I hate having my life disrupted by routine.” ~Caskie Stinnett
A temptuous siren’s call beckons from the open road. Once again, I comb maps of places yet to be explored, finalizing flight paths, formulating rail patterns and charting the wheeled paths where travels may take me this season. It’s once again workshop season.
Second only to sitting absorbed in my own book and box of colors while on the road is my love of teaching the Art of Keeping An Illuminated Travel Journal to students who range from intrepid beginners to like-minded artists already brimming with their own artistic tricks of the trade. There is truly no wrong way to capture one’s travel adventures. For some folks, merely snapping a photo with a cell phone or even a proper camera might be enough of a record of time and experience. But for many many others, a new trend of mindful travel is all the fashion these days.
Our world spins madly on at hyper speed. Many of us look for ways to slow it all down. To step off of this merry-go-round – to hit the reset button and come back once again into our physical bodies. Travel is one way to do this of course, but if we are not careful, we may find ourselves careening through our travel experiences at the same breakneck speed we do the rest of our lives. A travel journal is one such way to ever-so-gently pull the reins back a bit on time itself.
As an artist, I have dwelled in the world with a sketchbook of some sort or other tucked under my arm or in my knapsack since before I can remember. But one doesn’t need to self-identify as an artist to experience the magic of a little book and a box of watercolors. While spring drags its heels here in the midwest, travel season must surely be on its way eventually, yes? As we plot and dream of summerly adventurings, my friend and fellow creative spirit Margot Madison, Empress Queen Bee of Creative Juice asked if I might have a few suggestions related to the art of keeping a travel sketch journal. Not able to contain this amazing practice, I opted to put together a blog post here which might give folks a taste of what I do and teach along with heaps of links and ideas to get you started.
What you need:
Not much really. A book, something to draw with and a little set of watercolors. For the book, opt for something not too cumbersome. Stillman And Birn have lovely books in all shapes and sizes. The Alpha Series features good paper which can take a watercolor sketch without falling apart. Moleskin books are also classically wonderful to work in, just make certain to obtain one with watercolor paper.
For drawing, I like both pens and pencils, depending on how I am working. Nothing fancy necessary in the pencil department, though mechanical pencils are nice to have on hand. Recently I have taken to using fountain pens for ink drawing as I was tired of the waste of an empty marker heading to the landfill. Artist Liz Steel has some lovely ideas and suggestions on which pens and inks to try, but my current favorites are the Eco-pen with Noodler’s Bulletproof inks.
Next you’ll want to choose a watercolor set. Over the years, I have steered students toward the Winsor and Newton field sketching sets and they have held up over time. There are countless options out there to be had from the world renowned Schmincke brand to handcrafted ones from Greenleaf and Blueberry out of Colorado.
Tuck all of these new found treasures into a comfortable little bag or backpack along with a container of water, a cloth for blotting and you are ready to Go Forth And Doodle! If you are to be out in the sun, consider a sunhat and glasses, and maybe a little portable chair if need be. (Though I find that most beautiful places tend to have a bench or two.)
But “I can’t draw a straight line”, you say. Well, first off, straight lines are overrated. Drawing and painting is more about learning how to really see than anything else. A wonderful, playful way to settle into a new place and to get your eyes seeing in vivid color, without the pressure of ‘making something’ is to make little color swatches.
This is a wonderful way to get to know your watercolors, and learn about mixing colors to capture what you see. The first place I saw this exercise is in the lovely work of Sara Midda. Her book South of France, A Sketchbook’, is a favorite of mine and serves as a lovely example of how some simple colors can really give one a sense of place.
You’ll find that every place has it’s own distinct and sometimes quite subtle color palette. Simply beginning with swatches will get you working into a blank page.
Mapping out a Place.
I adore maps of all kinds. You can paste a small map of a place in your book, or perhaps create one of your own which speaks to where you’ve been along your own route.
They Draw and Travel has wonderful examples of playful ways to map a new place as well as creative usage of text to light up a journal page. Below is a page from a student of mine. Notice how she painted the letter ‘T’ which really highlights her drawing from Taos New Mexico!
Another creative way to incorporate text into your capture of a place is to stop into the local post office for a postal stamp. Often state and national parks will have site specific stamps on hand to play with as well.
But wait, I’m still not drawing anything!
No worries! You’ve already begun to ‘mess up’ your journal with these beginning exercises. And this is key to sidestepping one’s inner critic who is so hasty to make commentary on your efforts. Besides maps and swatches and stamps, keep an eye out for ephemera from your journey. Ticket stubs and business cards can be pasted into your journal as a reminder of where you’ve been and what you saw along the way. Perhaps you might begin to tuck in a quick sketch in and around these found objects….
There is a veritable feast of resources both locally and online that can get you actually drawing. Artists like Danny Gregory and his Sketch Skool project, Dan Price’s little tome How to Make a Journal of Your Life, and the local chapter of Urban Sketchers are all great places to pick up ideas about drawing or even take a workshop. That said, there is no greater way to learn to draw than to just sit and draw. That may sound tremendously daunting. But every drawing you make, “bad” or “good”, you will learn something which you will then apply to the next drawing. Drawing is exercise. Drawing is mindfulness. When we sit down and really see something for what it is, in this place, at this very moment, we are in communion with that thing, in this place, at this time.
One great exercise is that of the ‘blind contour’ drawing. Sit in front of what you would like to doodle, look at it for a few moments. Allow your eyes to look at the lines that make up what is in front of you. Now, place your pen or pencil to paper and without looking at the paper, run the pencil around the contours of what you are drawing.
This process is good to utilize, even if you are ‘looking’ at your drawing because it tends to keep drawings loose and scribbly.
In the end, whether your travels are taking your far a field this season, or perhaps merely exploring your own back yard, or watching the kids splash about at the local watering hole, a travel journal is a wonderful way to catalog and capture these fleeting moments.
This week I am off to California to guide a new group of sketchers onto this mindful path of gathering experience. Shortly after that I’ll be back in New Mexico for my flagship class in Taos. If you are interested in joining me for a workshop, consider Antigua, Guatemala next April (I’ll be offering 2 separate weeks back to back!) or perhaps Taos next June. Or just dredge up the courage to join your local Urban Sketchers. I can promise you they are a wonderful, welcoming group of people and you’ll learn a lot just by doing!
(dangling from the shepherd’s hooks are little water wells which help keep hummingbird feeders from becoming overladen with bad bugs when the feeders are out. but at this point who knows if bugs, or hummingbirds for that matter, are anywhere in the neighborhood at the moment.)
I am laid out flat and irritated with an unexpected spring cold, the likes of which I’ve not seen this year. Cheekily I thought I was in the clear of winter’s ailments when the blossoms began arriving and we found ourselves sketching in the cool, but sunny breezes.
We managed some hiking with the dogs, were taking note of things beginning to grow and bloom and even my spring allergies had taken root.
We were celebrating.
It was not to last.
“Spring” has other ideas.
With spring allergies comes a lowered immunity, which is part of being human I suppose. And so, here I am with a roaring head cold. (and a cough to wake the dead, some sunken eyes and seriously productive sinuses.) Meh. Insert healthy dose of self-pity.
My mom always says, ‘this too shall pass.’ And she is, as moms are, absolutely correct. To pass the time, I have clung to escapism in the form of Netflix shows, a bit of whisky to clear the head (I’m not a huge fan of the regular medicines) and some time, when I feel up to it, to finish a couple of little paintings. I am grateful for this spaciousness.
There is no escape quite like the escape to other worlds entirely. I’m pleased to say that I have managed to finish a small series of eight tiny paintings which will go on sale at the local incarnation of May the Fourth, a day which celebrates all things Star Wars around the world.
I join a number of other local artists at Brew House, May 4th for the opening of this eclectic show.
These are all tiny landscapes of worlds you might escape to yourself, should you like, (penny for scale). As for me, once recovered I will be escaping next week to the wilds of California for a weekend of travel journaling workshops in the San Jose area and surrounds. But for now, it’s back to the Netflix.
This time just last week I found myself still in Antigua, Guatemala, soaking up the last bit of sweetness and sunshine of a truly remarkable artistic adventure.
Today, at least according to calendars, spring has arrived.
Charlie is not amused, but I assure her that this will pass quickly. For while the snow falls and is apparently due to drop 4-6 inches on our fair river valley, the birds do sing, the buds do promise a show, and so I admire the loveliness, and sift through sketches and photographs of a time well had down south….. now while sipping hot bevvies.
It is always a bit of a journey to truly move between one place and another, each beloved, each so different from the next. And so I have taken my time getting back into the swing of things here at home. There has been work to catch up on at the shop (this is my day job where I help craft world class concertinas and the cases which house them). Not to mention unpacking, much laundry and the defragmentation of lists and accounting. And oh yes, St. Patrick’s Day nudged itself in there as well.
All good and fine things, but I’ll admit to being a little more on the ‘busy’ end of the activity spectrum in recent days than I would normally care to be. It is a gift to have a bit of time on a snowy morning to share a bit of this latest Guatemalan adventure here. What a time we had!
After a quick visit to foggy, rain soaked Chicago, I traveled for a lengthy but uncomplicated day, arriving in Central America at sunset. By the time I made my way to Guatemala City, it was fully dark, but there was full moon splendor for the first few nights of my stay. I spent a number of evenings just marveling from the rooftop as la Luna came up and over the horizon.
A bit of time was also spent just marveling once again at the collection of trinkets and santos and other such things at our beloved Posada San Sebastián in those first few days.
Eventually, we did spend time out in town as well. Antigua does not disappoint with it’s charm.
The local active volcano, Volcan de Fuego, was quite active indeed. Breathing it’s blessings upon us by day and by night.
“We are volcanoes, when we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”
~Ursula K. LeGuin
We enjoyed working in our books a bit before workshop participants began arriving. I was thrilled to see them! Old and new friends alike.
They turned out to be very hard workers! Some folks came with a fair bit of know-how and skill, while others brought a beginner’s wonder to the table. All worked beautifully together which was fantastic and not unexpected. Somehow, I manage to attract the most amazing people to these Sketch Journaling adventures.
As luck would have it, before we even began working, our group was treated to a front row viewing of a local Lenten Processión just after our first dinner together….
We spent the coming days soaking up everything Antigua had to offer, both out in town and close to home, depending on mood and how warm the weather might get on any given day. The days flew by and yet stretched endless with possibility.
I drew the Joseph Santos at our Posada a couple of times.
My friend and fellow artist Vanessa Sorensen took a fancy to the Santos as well. Take a look at her gorgeous sketches and blog posts about the trip here and here.
There is color and community at every turn in this ancient city.
A brief note: Having lived in Guatemala as a child, I have a deep regard for the complexities of the variety of communities to be found in the country. When looking to acquire textiles and other forms of handicraft, it’s important to me to buy second hand and to pay a fair price. If I get anything first hand, I like to, again, pay a fair price to the artisan responsible. In recent years, thanks to my friends Rosemary who’s an amazing sketcher and mixed media artist (and a dear dear friend, pretty much responsible for this trip happening) and Mari Gray over at Kakaw Designs, I’ve gotten to know some weavers personally and I’m slowly learning a bit about what makes Guatemalan textiles. Below is our friend Lidia Lopez talking a bit about her work and how she teaches others about it. I always enjoy a visit to see her. She is constantly offering new things to admire and perhaps purchase and she’s always great about helping us practicing our ever-evolving Spanish.
And yet there was always a chance to duck into a cool and shaded corner for some quietude or to escape the sunshine.
There is a deep spirit of reverence at every turn. Santos on santos on santos. Religion is a very visceral and real thing in Latin America. It’s refreshing.
I prayed to the gods of all things in my own way. Best I know how.
We drew and drew, sketched and painted. Some just quick captures here and there.
Other longer drawings, begun in place and tweaked and worked (perhaps overly so) back at home at our posada.
The quirky festival atmosphere in Antigua lingered on. Lovely evening light delighting photographers day after day after day.
As all trips do, this one eventually had to come to an end. I traveled back home to family and day job responsibilities, friends traveled on to other places in Guatemala to do work in the realm of Speech Pathology. While I sit here with tea and a wool hat and extra socks on, they informed me this morning that they grapple with 100 F degree heat for their work this week. What a difference a week makes.
Meanwhile, I heard from the lads at the Posada that the new courtyard being installed in my last couple of days there is now complete and the results are stunning. The outdoor space there has always been captivating, but now it’s truly expanded in its usability. I can’t wait to get back there with workshop groups to sit and draw all day! The dates for next year are approximately the first 2 weeks of April. I’ll craft a specific page here on the blog soon with specifics and you can choose one or both weeks, both will be essentially same, but no two weeks are ever the same so if you attend 2, you’ll get 2. More soon on all of that once the numbers are crunched. If you are in the Northern California realm of this world and want a taste of this process, I’m doing a 2 day workshop outside of San Jose and Santa Cruz the last weekend in April. You can sign up for one or both days. Send me an email at email@example.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….
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.
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.
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.
A few local illustrators here in this river valley (remarkably productive, as far as illustrators go actually) gather weekly for a bite to eat and sometimes a morning of sketching together. This morning was one such morning and we spent a quick bit of time at the zoo, dodging cooler temperatures and limiting hours to grab a few drawings from life.
We start with the elephants.
I always find my elephant drawings to tend toward the abstract as they mosey and move, like elephants do. Ages ago I worked at this zoo, as a teenager and college student. I loved it. Many of the keepers from back in the day are still present, being the best stewards they can be for these captive beasts. After all, zoos are the best solution to some serious mistakes humans have made.
They were indoors this morning for the chill, but were working their way out of doors where there is more space even as we drew them.
Later we observe some sweet red pandas and eventually a few felines. The cat house is changed from when I worked there years ago. And yet it is familiar.
There is a caracal, this one more curious and mellow than the one which haunted me and jumped at the glass on my watch.
And a bearcat, a local mascot and icon at the university. One of the few collegiate football games I attended back in the day was as a steward for the zoo’s bearcat who goes to represent his home team.
This explains a lot…..
I hear they are vicious but have only really known them to be sleepy.
We have a lovely, but brisk morning out. I am cold and head first to refill my tea water upon arrival at the local market where we gather for lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant. It is good we arrive early as soon there is a line out the door.
There is the usual sharing of work, a bit of mayhem and illustrated camaraderie as well. I am so thankful for this group of fellow artists at all stages of their careers. They give me hope and encouragement and it’s always fun to head out to draw together.
It’s a funny thing to go out into the world with a sketchbook, some pens and pencils and a little paint set. My friends from the Cincinnati Illustrators group and I routinely set out around town to practice our on-site rendering skills and one of our favorite colder-weather places to sketch is the Krohn Conservatory. Today was, indeed, a cooler day to be sketching and so we visited the conservatory where their annual holiday display is on. There are lovely little woodsy buildings made of natural materials, depicting many local landmarks and iconic places. And of course loads of gorgeous plants and flowers.
I sat for a good bit watching this little incline go up and down the hill to ‘Mt. Adams’ while I drew the scene.
After drawing for a while, I took out my paint set to add some color to my sketch. Soon, I realized that I had a mesmerized young admirer of my work.
and so I drew her.
She was delighted with the results and when her Gran asked her, ‘what’s she painting there, Peyton?’, my new friend answered, ‘that’s Peyton!’
Peyton’s Gran sent me the snapshots she took of our sweet exchange and I share them here with her permission. It was so wonderful to interact with guests of the Krohn, many of whom were fascinated by watching us draw.
Years and years ago, when I was a more shy sketcher, this notion filled me with dread. I am often asked by students, ‘what if someone wants to see what I am drawing?’ (!!!) And my answer is, ‘Let them!!’
We should all share our creative endeavors now and then, even when they might be new to us or feel clumsy. I’ve been sketching for years now. And each time I go out, I marvel at how curious and engaging folks are when I bring my sketchbook out. I no longer mind folks looking over my shoulder as I draw, since now I teach the process. I truly enjoy meeting the wonderful people who take a moment to say hello and ask what I am up to. An active sketchbook is a lovely way to experience the world.