And then a wee shadow to ground your developing figure in space….
(for the record, my sunshine is found in the left of my little world.)
Once your carrot is feeling like a figure, time to clothe it a bit. This is done with some basic shapes, like rectangles. The vendors here in Guatemala with their traditional outfits (the word for these is “traje”) are lovely to sketch in this way as the forms found in their clothing can be broken down to simple shapes.
Next I begin to add some appendages for this particular figure.
I then add a bundle on her head. Folks here work so hard! They carry their wares for peddling on their backs, heads, arms and then walk and walk and walk to make a sale.
I begin to find light in the bundle….
Then some patterning in her corte…..
And added some color therein….
I darken her outfit, showing the shadow beneath her heavy bundle….
a little more personality to her shadow.
Then I begin to add more wares for her to sell to the tourists here in Antigua. Necklaces which will dangle from one arm whilst her other balances the bundle above.
More colors on the necklaces and some threads too.
She’s looking good I think!
So very tiny, but these little portraits really have a ton of personality and I enjoy creating them!
I am SO inspired by the Guatemalan people. So very patient with us often clueless tourists with our clumsy spanglish. Quick with a smile and a “buenos días” on the sidewalk. The traditional textiles worn around town are a feast for the northern-most among us so thirsty for color. It is such great fun to learn about the various patterns and places represented in these weavings and embroideries. And great fun to explore them in a variety of ways in my sketchbook….
Yesterday was a day of travel. My Buddhist friends say, about most everything, something to the effect of “and herein lies the practice.” This is what I was saying to myself as I drove the Irish countryside, at once familiar and not so. Though fraught with white knuckled nerves, my journey was uneventful – in spite of monsoon styled rains. (It was overly rainy, even for Ireland!) But I managed with the driving, getting used to being the pilot of a strangely-sided vehicle. I must admit that being fully and constantly present in the moment is actually really exhausting when one actually does it for real.
We go through our lives on auto-pilot so much of the time. There is nothing quite like driving in Ireland to remind me thus.
This morning, there is peat in the air. I slept soundly and solidly for the first time since arriving and this has given me renewed purpose. There may be a visit to the beach today. Music has been elusive so I will just play on my own perhaps. One cannot push the plan. I hope to get the paints out as well, though I am disappointed with the medium I ordered to use as its drying time is a good deal longer than what I use at home.
It can take a few days to feel truly landed in a place. I am not sure I have quite yet arrived, but I am close.
“The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark. The small truth has words which are clear; the great truth has great silence.” ~Rabindranath Tagore
To arrive at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico is to step over a barrier of sorts. Time and space are steeped in a special fluidity here which makes them more malleable than elsewhere. Every year my goal as a workshop facilitator is to pack as much practical ‘how-to’ into a week devoted to the travel-sketch-journal process, whilst also making way for more ethereal notions such as magic, friendship and community. For opening up to what we each have to offer the world. For finding our own visual voices.
“Every one of us should risk living in the full flow of our own originality. And never to compare yourself with anyone outside you but to trust that inner voice that is speaking to you and whispering to you from the well of great possibility that lives inside you.” ~John O’Donohue
This year is my ninth year working in Taos in this capacity. Over the years I have come to trust that while each season will be new in many ways, we can trust that we will be embraced by a familiarity to sink into which makes space for the best work. I like to think of our travel journals, as well as our classroom space, as vessels to be filled during our week together. My job is merely to hold the space, to hand out bite sized demonstrations and then steward each participant along their own journey. In spite of two last minute cancellations (alas, too last-minute to offer their spaces up even the most last-minute takers) I had a relatively packed house. These numbers bring an energy to the room and to the work we do, and yet there was a lovely intimacy within this group straight away.
We went from an empty vessel….
……to the buzz of a room of artists happily working along together.
Some dear friends from Taos Pueblo visited us on our first day together to share their process of crafting beautiful pottery with mere land, water, time and fire. This was a new idea for this year and I wasn’t sure how I might fold it into an already full teaching agenda, but everyone was quite pleased with the experience (if not the eventual results from the firing).
Time spent pinching pots, forming beads and wee fetishes was time learning about this place we found ourselves – Taos.
It was wonderful to get our hands dirty with the very land itself.
Working with the clay deepened our journaling work indeed…..
We talked of color and form. We worked on studying ellipses (hint: they aren’t hotdogs or footballs.)
Some participants went so far as to use bits of spare wet clay as a painting pigment.
We allowed our wee works to dry through the week. Some cracked, all shrank a bit, but by week’s end, things were dry enough to attempt trial by fire.
Alas, the wind kicked up on firing night and our little works had to eventually be fired on our final morning by our friends out on the Pueblo. In the end, only a few things survived unscathed and most of us went home with mere shards of our work.
For a variety of reasons, I am still glad we spent the time to play with the clay. For one thing, I think everyone came away with a deep reverence for the professional pots made by native hands from native land. Their pots are deceptively simple – until one has attempted to create one, that is! It is a good thing to know how difficult some work is. We can then appreciate it all the more, yes? We all also enjoyed getting our hands dirty and using the clay as pigment. As my workshop is about capturing the spirit of a place, and our experiences in that place, this mini afternoon workshop-within-a-workshop was worth the investment for the beautiful drawings that came out of it.
But of course, there was more to be captured. There were mornings with the buffalo where we gathered before dawn in small groups to visit the herd we’ve come to know so well. I never know year to year if this is something we will get to do again, and so every year I am deeply grateful to spend time with these ancient and wild beasts. Many lovely drawings were made of the magnificent buffalo, but I was firmly planted in teaching mode and so didn’t manage to get a snapshot of these works.
We talked of how to capture light.
Especially, when we find it in darkness….
We took much time to study the colors found in New Mexico such as rust and turquoise, and the complexity of cloud forms.
We doodled ‘carrot people’ from afar and each other closer to hand.
We attempted the challenging yet forever whimsical birdhouses in Mabel’s courtyard…..
“Our pigeons live in a Mexican village reared high up on thick, long posts. I love the expression of their frame houses, that have been added to by José for years. They lean strangely in all directions, and look like a settled community.
… One has to pick one’s way among them on the flagstones from the house to the gates. They feel they own the place and I guess they do. We never let cars drive in beside the portal any more as they used to do because the pigeons wouldn’t move away fast enough and they were always being run over. Finally I put a sign on the gates and locked them. It said, ‘Please don’t drive in. The pigeons don’t like it.'”
~Mabel Dodge Luhan
We worked and we worked and we worked.
We also spent time outside of class at the Pueblo watching the light dance as it does.
Sometimes I see things that give me some indication of what Georgia O’Keeffe may have been after in her paintings….
All too soon our week together was coming to an end. As one person put it, the days seemed spacious and extensive and long in the best way possible, and yet the week as a whole simply flew past us.
We had a final farewell dinner in Mabel’s iconic dining room.
We presented the amazing kitchen staff with a gift of our own making, being so grateful for their hard work keeping us fed and watered all week.
That evening we signed each other’s books, “yearbook” style, and visited together. Some even worked a bit more in our beloved Juniper house classroom! I took “The Vans” outside for a photo shoot, just for fun. It’s my hope that even more folks will carry their sketch supplies around in vans like these in future…..
It is nigh on impossible to capture this week in a blog post. I look back over the years of posts about this trip and I marvel at the layers of meaning and experience I have managed to convey each time – of the changes that have shifted into place over time. The kinship of place I feel toward Taos is complex. In one way, I always feel as if I am coming home. As one friend back here in Ohio (though who travels to Mabel’s on occasion) recently stated, “It’s Mabel. Everything will be fine. Pulling up in the parking lot always brings me to my knees. ” I agree with her.
Friends always ask me, if you love it so much there, why don’t you guys just move? I haven’t yet felt that call, but every time in Taos is harder to leave behind, to be sure. The town upped its game further this year with my introduction to a special breed of sheep called Churro. One of the workshop participants is a shepherdess and has been renting a small place on the outskirts of town which just happens to have a small herd of these amazing animals. After the workshop, Rosemary, Steve and I visited our new friend on her little farm and got to meet the sheep, the farmer who is their steward in this world, and to marvel at how the hidden depths of Taos seem to have no end. I could not stop staring at these sheep.
Those of you who know me, know I adore all things sheep. I have even joked that one day perhaps I’ll be like Beatrix Potter. I’ll publish and sell a bunch of books, and then retire to a sheep farm. One never knows…..
In any case, next year, 2020, marks a nearly decade of this work finding its way in Taos. I feel it may be a special year indeed. (Though to be fair, every year is a gift of it’s own.) I will be offering up pre-registration to this year’s workshop participants first and then to a broader audience after that. This will happen in the first week of September when summer’s travels are through and I begin to set sights on next year. I have a feeling that #TaosSketch2020 may fill fast, so keep your eyes peeled around that time for announcements. For now though, I will unpack here and rest up for what the rest of summer has to offer.
It is travel season. I am recently returned from California and while away, my studio window robins hatched and grew.
Mere seconds after this photo was snapped, this last one fledged. It’s a bit like life itself. How fast they grow. Though our fledglings double back on occasion and for this we are grateful.
California was rewarding in her splendor as always, but had a few weather related tricks up her sleeve which complicated things for my workshop days. That said, I packed in a lot in just a short time, both as a traveling artist and as a teacher.
We had an appointment to meet watercolor maker Amanda Hinton of Limn Watercolors where we got to see how her fabulous paints are made from scratch. It’s a fascinating brand of magic she does and we were smitten with all the colors. And with Amanda herself.
Limn colors do the usual fun stuff watercolors are known for, like mixing beautifully and replicating stained glass with their translucency, but some of her colors can separate and bloom in evocative ways that we have found enchanting. I have a whole row of her colors in my paint set now which afford me abilities I’ve not had in the past.
It was great fun to try and buy a few new colors to add to our collection and I am so thankful to Amanda for her time and warm welcome.
Also in Berkeley was a wonderful creative re-use arts supply store and the amazing Burma Superstar restaurant. We even managed to stop into California Typewriter, of documentary fame…..
We were warmly welcomed by Ken and Herb and enjoyed looking at the machines currently in store there.
All in all it was a perfect, busy, sunny California day.
The sunny bit was not to continue. Alas, the weekend forecast was wet. wet. wet. So we worked indoors with exercises students will be able to take out of doors on their own at a later time. Not ideal, but neither is sketching and teaching in the rain. We were at least cosy.
There is plenty to draw in the home of an interesting, artistic friend. Here’s a small demo drawing of a wee humbled Buddha I did for the workshop.
The following days were to see us dodging rain drops to capture the wild water on the coastline.
Again, not ideal, but we managed. Day two of workshops was moved by one day for those available to make it, and we did manage a few hours of sunlight between rainstorms on our day of working together. We also managed a few more sketches.
Painting at the sea side is by far one of my favorite things. I am often torn between the desire to simply sit and stare at the shifting light and color of the ocean and to capture it in my sketch book. This feeling is magnified by the limited time I always have by the sea.
I find myself wondering why I do not live nearer to big water.
Somewhere where I might take my blue art van and wander down the lane to the sea shore for a few hours to sketch and stare….. maybe daily.
Suffice it to say, time in Santa Cruz is never enough time. In the same way that time at Ballybunion Beach is never enough. Or time on Monhegan is never enough. Alas. Time marches on…..
Next up is an ocean of a different kind. An ocean of sage. In just two weeks’ time I’ll be back in New Mexico for my flagship travel journaling course at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House once again. Every year is a gift and I am thrilled to be heading back.
The weather seems like it might be more cooperative in Taos than in California, even leaning more cool than in recent years. We shall see. But at the very least, sunshine, New Mexico style.
My studio is less a place of making just now and more a place of packing and preparations.
The art van, of course, at the ready. A new sweater for the (hopefully) cool Taos nights, and maybe a friend or two along for company.
Swag is being readied.
I consider what art supplies to bring for my own making, while making sure that I have all the extras for the workshop participants as well.
It can make one’s head spin to be sure. But the paint set is clean (after being dusted quite heavily by volcanic ash in Guatemala and a grain or two of sand in Santa Cruz) and refilled (note the lovely middle line of mostly Limn colors!!)
I have a few new pencils to try, including a light blue one suggested by Kristin Meuser during her workshop and a couple of Blackwing pencils all the rage with my illustrator friends.
All of it tucks away into the little van, along with a book or two to draw and paint in. It’s all quite compact actually.
This year I have made the decision to simplify my packing process for the Taos trip. I am only bringing a few of my current books, not a box full of past years’ books like I do normally. And instead of bringing yet another box full of published books for people to peruse, I will bring a list of said books to share with my students so they can explore when they get home via bookstore and library. We will instead focus on the work at hand. It’s a strange shift, but I feel good about it.
It’s easy to look at the wonderful empty classroom at Mabel’s and feel like we need to fill it with things other than ourselves and our small packs of art supplies. This is especially the case for me as facilitator. But this is not true. That room fills with laughter and conversation and the joy of working into the wee hours on sketches begun earlier in the day. WE fill the room. WE are enough, with just our supplies on hand.
I am so excited to get back to Taos where this whole traveling-art thing began for me so many years ago. Every year is different, and yet there is the lovely familiarity to lean into as well. I am open to what I have to learn there year after year and am grateful for the opportunity to go back once again.
“One could really learn only by being, by awakening gradually to more and more consciousness, and consciousness is born and bred and developed in the whole body and not only the mind, where ideas about life isolate themselves and leave the heart and soul to lapse inert and fade away. Yet never to cease watching was imperative also; to be aware, to notice and observe, and to realize the form and color of all, the action and result of action, letting the substance create the picture out of abstract consciousness, being always oneself the actor and at the same time the observer, without whom no picture can exist.”
~Mabel Dodge Luhan
And from Mary:
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” ~Mary Oliver
Just a couple of days ago, I weathered a 20 hour (door to door) day of travel from Antigua, Guatemala back home here to Ohio to begin re-entry into my “real” life and to prepare for summer workshop season. This latest trip to Antigua has gotten it all started in fine fashion. Two weeks of facilitation and friendship; a welcoming of the Lenten season – even for the least religious among us; and a passport to spring.
Now home, I weather the chain saws and leaf blowers which mark the fair weather season in these parts and I wonder what could be made different in this world. I let these ponderings simmer on the back burner of my mind as I revisit what was, yet again, a life changing visit to a magical other-world.
Last I left you here I had arrived at the Posada a little heart-weary after a visit to my childhood home in Guatemala City. I am still sifting through that heavy luggage, but not without curiosity and joy that I have as much information and inclination as I do with regard to it all. It was, after all, a lifetime ago. What does it even matter? The words “make a book” keep coming around, though I have no idea how to go about it. So many great memoirs exist in the world. How does one even begin to make a semblance of a memoir with so few memories? But I continue to investigate. Perhaps living memories through the lens of a vivid imagination is enough. Guatemala is worth exploring, I do believe.
But first, THE WORK.
I crafted this sketch-journal trip to be one framed in intimacy and quietude. No big groups here. The goal being to come to a beautiful place, make some art, work at making it the best we can make it here and now – nothing more than that really. Beyond that goal, the rest was travel gravy. Each week there were 6 of us, (next year I’ll allow no more than 8 total – 6 participants at most) to allow for ease of movement about town as a group, ease of meal taking and decision making, to encourage a sense of deep work and seriousness of purpose. This approach worked beautifully and set such a lovely tone all around for both weeks. I marveled.
were fed by volcanoes
that fire milk
piercing the surface
pierces our facade
to get in
and feed our souls
By morning we would admire the volcanoes, if they were up for viewing, and then we’d wander through town to breakfast….
One could spend the entire week with this series of arches on route to breakfast alone and not get bored with sketching.
The rooftop at Bella Vista Coffee Company is one of the best places to begin the day, and it has some of the best coffee the world has to offer.
We are greeted as friends, always.
Each day would see us tackling a new-to-us ruin in this gorgeous city, sketching and taking it all in along the way.
By afternoon we would work back at Posada San Sebastián, tidying up sketches we’d begun in the morning…
and perhaps capturing a bit of our home-away-from-home at the Posada as it’s filled with all sorts of sketchable fare……
I hope to make some proper paintings of the shifting light in the laundry area.
There was so much to see and take in and draw from and speak to and listen to and experience. Each day was filled to the brim with a special kind of magic only found in this amazing Unesco World Heritage city of Antigua, Guatemala.
A Sacred Season.
This year’s workshop abutted a very Holy Season indeed. That of Lent. In fact, at the end of the trip, Rosemary and I stole away in the wee hours of the morning of Palm Sunday. Otherwise there might have been no escape. For Lent is a busy time in Antigua.
Some days the incense was near stifling. Reminiscent of growing up old-school Catholic, it was at once, unsettling and nostalgic.
Carrying Mary. It’s heavy work to bear the feminine through a distinctly male-dominated culture. But Mary prevails. As does the strength of the women of Guatemala.
The locals weren’t the only ones feeling a sense of the season. …
“I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.” ~Mary Oliver
“I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.” ~Mary Oliver
Next year we hope not to be quite so close to Easter. (Stay tuned. I am announcing the dates for 2020 to those who’ve been on the trip up to now and who’ve expressed interest even before that….. I’ll open it further soon to others but I expect it all to fill quite quickly if this year was any indication.)
Though I’ll admit it is thrilling to be near this level of faith.
And so, here we are now, at the height of spring in Ohio, making lists and travel plans for my California Trip in May (contact me for details if you are interested) and the Taos based workshop in June (now full!), which is my flagship class and holds a truly special place in my heart.
This time of year always has me feeling a bit tossed about in the world. I am not a speedboat in this modern world, but more of an old fashioned ocean liner of sorts. It takes me some time to shift gears and change course of direction. But I manage to get there in the end.
If you are curious to see more of my own work from our time in Antigua, head over to my Instagram. There is plenty there. I aim to keep working from source photos as well. Sketching my way through misty memories of a tumultuous time and of course from more recent times as well, a tad less tumultous.
Seems the best way.
PS. There is a gorgeous telling of week one over on the blog-space of artist, printmaker, photographer and no-longer-practicing bear biologist (she has amazing stories fit for a proper campfire) of Vanessa Sorensen of Nessy Designs. I adore her work, words and over all being really. Thank you Vanessa for this lovely post: http://nessydesigns.blogspot.com/2019/04/guatemala-sketchbook-workshop-2019.html
Do go visit her website and blog. It’s a treasure to behold.
It is winter in Ohio. Today, at least, we have some sunshine and some not so bitter temperatures. I will go outside with a dog in a bit to attempt to shake some of the doldrums nipping at my heels just now. A heaviness borne of annoyances mostly. Demands of the season and the length of daily darkness have ground me down in recent weeks. I know this will pass. I look forward to Solstice next week and keep my soul facing the light as best I can, while making friends with the dark as needed.
Gifts are being crafted, alighting to celebrate the return of longer days. Although it will be a good many weeks before we see the changes and shifts properly, our hearts know – and sometimes that is enough to lighten the spirit.
Last weekend there was a concert – a sharing of musical gifts in the form of our annual Peace and Merriment concert at the Riley School. Our hearts were lightened by an afternoon of tunes and a few stories by our Master of Ceremonies, who is also my flute instructor, John.
All things seasonal are underway….
Sharing light with the world,
I have lists made of gifts to gather for the kids in my life, most of whom like books, even the older ones. Perhaps we can be like Icelandic revelers and lie around reading all day on Christmas! As for the adults, we all seem to feel a distinct pulling away from the “stuff” of it all, opting more for subscriptions, memberships, classes – “things” which aren’t things and which brighten the experience of simply being human.
Perhaps you know someone close to you who feels similarly. Perhaps this someone is feeling the darkness of winter, (which even on the brightest of winter days has a muted spectrum of color). Perhaps, they might like to look forward to more light and color in the not-so-distant future.
Registration for my travel journal workshops in Taos, New Mexico and Antigua, Guatemala are officially open and Taos is nearing capacity (yay!). Antigua, being international and a newer offering, still has a few spaces left in each of the two weeks available (click the link for details!)
I can’t say enough about what a dose of vivid color and warm air can do for one’s soul and body after a long winter and I find myself looking very forward indeed to the spring trip to Antigua in particular.
And the coffee. You simply wouldn’t believe the coffee…
Our classroom is in the form of where ever we find ourselves each day, from rooftops to ruins.
We immerse in culture through some shopping and exchange of language.
Through it all we gather it all into a travel journal.
While I encourage the use of cameras and smart-phones to capture “source photos” for later work, there is simply no better way to really soak into a place than through the lens of a travel journal. Merely taking the time to draw something, perhaps even multiple times, creates a broader understanding of place. A broader understanding of our place in the All of Everything. This can be difficult to pin down in our hectic world. By cataloguing a travel experience in a little book, our travels are enhanced and brought to life in a new and richer way.
We notice the little things…..
….while standing in awe of the bigger things as well.
We immerse in the day to day of Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which holds beauty, color and light at every turn.
There are a million different yellows….
Pinks as well.
Blues and greens are well represented.
Our palette here is bright and beautiful and I help you figure out how to recreate these vibrant hues on the pages of your journal with a simple set of watercolors.
As the end of the year draws nigh, with one major gift giving holiday behind us (gosh Hanukkah was early this year!!) and another too close for comfort, consider the gift of one of my workshops. This might be a gift for a loved one or friend, or simply, and perhaps most importantly, to yourself, setting the tone for 2019 to be filled with close attention paid to beauty, light and color.
We are met in Guatemala City by our trusty driver Pablo and are whisked away from the big city to Antigua where Posada San Sebastian awaits us as our home away from home. We stash our things and wander for a cup of coffee (first of many) as our lodging isn’t quite ready for our weary heads. We wander the quiet town as it awakens to an average work day- shops opening, my favorite coffee place too, Bella Vista, and we some how make it until our room is ready and we can nap .
The Posada is bustling but calm and we sleep soundly until well after lunch hour. This is the price we pay for an overnight flight. With more awake minds and bodies we spend some time with our sketchbooks . I’m well over due for it and feeling rusty but I manage.
After a while we are famished for a late lunch/early dinner so we head out to town for some local fare.
It’s delicious and there is even a strolling minstrel who sings to the diners. It is a magical meal. One of many to be sure .
We wander a bit more, acclimating, looking into the shops, greeting the greeters outside of all of the establishments .
Upon our return, the sun is setting with much fanfare.
We are delighted by this, and even Fuego itself gives us a small (non-catostrophic) belching light show of lava in the distance .
Though We are weary, we eagerly await the arrival of our fellow travelers with whom we will share the coming days .
More soon, provided we have continued connectivity.
“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!
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.
We awake at 230 am, Antigua local time, to brew a quick cup of coffee, double check that we’ve packed every last little thing we brought with us and picked up along the way. It is dark, quiet and cool. Hugo, one of our beloved innkeepers, sees us off with hugs and sleepy eyes and makes sure our driver arrives. Which he does, only a few minutes late due to road closures set up for the weekend’s Procesións.
Careening through the wee hours and the volcanic hill sides to arrive in Guatemala City where lights, sounds, people and the airport are to be found, we begin our trek back into modernity one small step at a time.
The day awakens with a pink dawning. I part ways with my friends, knowing we will be drawing and painting and laughing together in just a few week’s time for a smaller workshop out in the San Jose area. And so there are no tears, which is a relief. I am sad to be leaving this 3rd world, but I look forward to my home comforts and creatures.
Airport life is strange and timeless, full of noise and people rushing about, and lots of concrete and hard surfaces. I do not care for it. I am fortunate on both ends of this trip to have familiar faces to greet me along the way. This sweet dog is called Enya. She works with my dear friend Danielle in customs making sure no inappropriate or potentially dangerous things come along in peoples’ baggage. I have such high regard for dogs with jobs and it is lovely to make her acquaintance. Though clearly Enya is on the job and only has eyes for Danielle.
Eventually, I make it home to the Ohio River Valley, which is carpeted green with spring and there is even a bit of sunlight.
I settle in, and unpack a bit, catching up here at home, which feels really good.
Just like that, it’s my first day back home. Coffee in hand (in my new hand painted mug from Guatemala), I walk outside with the dogs for our usual routine. Almost like the last week never was.
And yet, it was.
I left for Antigua just over a week ago with a head full of the spin-cycle of modern life, but return now with a handful of worry dolls to carry those little things instead, and a heart filled with color, beauty, simplicity and love. Along with a huge dose of gratitude, which is a great gift indeed. If you don’t shake stuff up now and again, all the good stuff sinks to the bottom. We can’t have that.
Life in Antigua is quite easy and simple for tourists, or those residing there with money. However, I believe that for the average citizen, life is probably a bit rough around the edges. Yet people seem to get by for the most part.
Ever so creatively.
Shopping and laundry get done.
Money gets made, which can be a family affair.
Life goes on. In some ways so very different than life here, and yet, mostly, pretty much the same. To me, this was one of the take-aways from this trip. I was reminded how very much alike we are as people. Human beans are so keen to draw lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’, when really, we are all just us. My modern life, white skin and heaps of built in privilege are just the luck of the cosmic draw, really. This is something to consider when we walk in the world.
I’m taking today to launder some well worn travel clothes, bathe my smelly dog, and enjoy a little quiet after the trip. Perhaps a run and a bit of time in the garden as well if the weather holds. I am enjoying the liminal, post-travel version of myself. This mellow feeling that anything is possible and life is good. Because it is.
I am thankful for the ways I have of connecting back to my travels in my heart of hearts, even as my life back home slides back into place.