It’s been a whirlwind, maelstrom of a time around here lately.  Months of work suddenly seemed to come to fruition recently and I have been working feverishly to keep it all afloat.  Drawing Down the Vision has had multiple pilot workshops and, coupled with a new and improved website, is ready for sale to receptive corporate audiences and beyond.  My business partner Adam and I are tremendously excited to see almost a year’s worth of work and research finally see the light of day.

The Artworks project for the Cincinnati Convention Center is “rounding third and heading for home” as they say here in Cincinnati.  Tina and I are in the finishing stages of making this huge project a reality.  We are technically ahead of the long list of things that need to be done, but it is still stressful as we prepare to move the work in a few weeks to the auto body shop for a finishing clear coat, and then finally on to the Convention Center for installation.  There is still much to be done, but we are plowing through it.  Yesterday I worked on two more faces, those of Christian Moerlein and Louis Hudepohl who will be in the part of the design that looks a bit like a brewery…

Being springtime, at least according to the calendar, it is also tornado season and that means puppets!!  (At least for me and my fellow Red Cross puppeteer Jeni!)  We did our first show of the season a couple of weeks ago and made it through with no discernible mistakes.  It is amazing to me how well we can remember our lines after only a couple of run through rehearsals and months off before that.  The depths of memory have no bounds it seems.

The Make a Book/ Fill a Book class at the Art Academy is approaching week 6.  Cody and I have a great group of 10 students who are bravely forging their way in their newly-made “re-purposed” journals.  Cody taught us all how to take an interesting old book cover and fill it with blank paper using traditional book binding techniques.  I have been introducing students to the various materials and techniques I use to then make a blank journal into a one of a kind, personalized sketch-journal.  The results have been delightful!!

Often, when I am in the midst of teaching this class or when I have a time of great externalized efforts, like recently, my sketchbook is along for the ride in my car or my bag, but doesn’t see much action inside.  I can go for weeks sometimes without sketching or writing.  This is a pattern with which I am familiar and I have learned not to be to hard on myself; that I will get back to it when things settle.  Last week, this pattern was shook up a bit.  In the middle of everything – I took a trip.  A badly needed respite from all of the work as well as the stress and grief from the trial of Esme’s murderer.  Although work has been so wonderfully busy, this trial opened up and salted wounds that had only gingerly begun to heal over the past year with all of our positive efforts to create a lasting legacy to someone lost so young.  Some time away was in order.

Months back, Tony and I had planned to join a group of Cincinnati area kayakers on a trip to the Gulf coast of Florida to swim with some manatees and to enjoy everything the Nature Coast has to offer.  We set up a hip yet responsible house sitter to hang out with the kids and dogs and off we went for paddling, snorkeling, and for me, some serious time in the sketchbook.  I am excited to share the fresh pages with my students this week when I get back to class.  Here are some highlights from my trip and from my sketchbook….

The drive to Florida was just under 900 miles and I slept a good bit of the way.  Once I awoke to look out the window at a huge peanut on top of a building.  Ah, Georgia.  We wound up in Cedar Key, Florida, a sleepy little island town and I was instantly smitten.  (My good ol’ friend Carol did remark, when have I traveled and not fallen in love with my surroundings?….. I think she has a point!)

We had hoped to paddle in the morning but awoke to storms.  Instead we walked around town and visited the museum and some little galleries and had some wonderful chowder at a place called Tony’s.

By the time we got to the campground the rain had pretty much stopped.  We were in for a week of majority sunshine!

Day one, Rainbow River.  It was the clearest water I had ever seen!!!!  So many gorgeous colors.  We kayaked and snorkeled and by the end of the day, I knew I needed a new wet suit top if I was not to suffer hypothermia….

Day 2 – Three Sisters springs, and swimming with manatees!!!  Thanks to my new friend and awesome photographer, Jamie Trammel, I have some shots of our time in the water with these gentle giants.  I could have done just this every day and would have been satisfied.  We wound up going back on day 4.  I love manatees.  Simple as that.

Under the water, they are very purpley in their grayness.  That is how I sketched them.

Day 3 – the Weeki Wachee River.  More clear blue water, snorkeling, rope swinging and even a few manatees toward the end of the paddle!!  This place is famous for its mermaid shows but we simply paddled and swam it’s waters.  Given more time, I would have liked to see the show.  Maybe next time!

While part of the group took the cars to the end of the line, those of us left behind arranged the kayaks for a colorful picture.  Here’s to random acts of guerilla art.

Later in the week, at the end of the trip, a few of us headed back to Cedar Key for a paddle to Atsena Otie Island which used to be where the actual town of Cedar Key was located.  It was washed away by a hurricane in 1896 and only a cemetery and building foundations are now present.  It is a lovely, quiet and haunting place and we spent quite a bit of time there poking around and drawing.

While paddling over, our friend Don picked up a little swallow that had died and brought it to shore so I could sketch it.  A sad but beautiful little thing.

I also sketched some horseshoe crab shells.  Tony found this one, completely intact.

The gravestones at Atsena Otie are old and beautiful and covered with lichen.  I took some rubbings into my book and wondered about the people that somehow managed a living on this far flung island.

So here I am, back in Ohio, on a cold, rainy Monday.  Vacations have a way of shaking up things and getting me far enough away from the norm that I can really take stock of things.  While away, I made working in my sketchbook everyday a huge priority, even forsaking the occasional paddle.  I simply can’t express how soothing this was and a huge reminder that I need to make it a priority in my daily life here in Ohio.  I found upon returning that I am feeling more centered and focused than before I left.  This is due in part from just resting and getting away from it all.  But I attribute it also to all of the drawing I did in my sketchbook.  As Adam and I move toward marketing our Drawing Down the Vision workshops to the generally non-drawing corporate crowd, I plan to practice what I preach more than I have been amidst recent stresses.  The act of picking up a pen and mapping out ones surroundings on paper (be they internal or external worlds) is crucial to staying centered and seeing broader connections.  This past week has reminded me of that.  I am grateful for it.

nothing clever, just a quick update

The past few weeks defy description really.  I am busy beyond comparison, for a combination of reasons that span a spectrum unthinkable in what some might describe as a normal life.  I suppose I don’t lead a normal life really.

Since this blog is important to me and I want to at least give a hint to what I have been up to/ going through/ working on, I’ll post a few photos here, with probably less of the commentary any readers may have come to expect (do I even have any readers?  outside of my family? I don’t know.)

So here goes…

Shepard Fairey was in town for a few weeks to open his retrospective at the Contemporary Arts Center here in Cincinnati.  He pretty much rocks.  I’d love to have the time and energy to write intelligently about his work, but that will have to wait for another post.  Better yet, google him.  Read about what he does and how he does it (there is much out there about him, more well written than I could ever hope to be), and I’m sure you’ll be hooked.  He’s been wheat pasting a good bit of his work around town which has created quite a buzz.  Some lovely diversions:

Fairey’s arrival in town has everyone abuzz, especially the young folks.  I know this because I am currently working on a project with an amazing bunch of high school/ college age artists who adore Fairey’s work and are deeply inspired by his use of repeating patterns and politically charged imagery.  Our project, slated to be installed at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Downtown Cincinnati, is going well.  I am working through the ArtWorks organization and we are under the gun so to speak to get this thing ready and up by mid-April.  This relief mural will be 25 feet wide and 13 feet tall and will be a permanent installation at the convention center.  Needless to say, it’s huge and a lot of work.  Here are some photos of the work in progress:

the design…

ok, so in the left side of the design, just below the column, there is a small area of bricks….. here they are:

Here’s the column, with historically high flood years marked:

Below is the beginnings of a painting of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s head.  I am painting this. (!)  Normally I am not a painter.  It is not my usual choice as an artistic language, but I am learning.  Tina and I are using some of the techniques used by painter Maxfield Parrish who utilized glazing and layering to create his amazing colorscapes.  I am learning loads and am so thankful for this new skill.  It’s a bit like water coloring and my use of watercolors shows.  Even though the design is Tina’s, we can already tell which painting is mine.  I find this fascinating.  Like handwriting…..

more “bricks”…

Lots of mixed media on this project.  Below are city scape images and some contrasted images of the kids working with us on the project.  They will go into the “bubbles” in the design.  Success is in the details as they say….

One of the reasons Tina asked me to be the teaching artist on this project is my “textural sensibility”.  I like to work with textures and things that look like they grew there.  There is plenty of opportunity to create this and have it work in our favor on this project.  This piece has some “barnacle” like growths on it.  We are working with a ton of river themed material and the stuff that grows under a river boat might look a little like this…. at least the way we imagine it!

Here’s Tina, painting in the first blue value layers on abolitionist John Isom Gaines.

Below is Jennie Porter’s portrait also just getting started by Tina.  The blues will provide a lovely valued backdrop for all of the face paintings we plan to put into this design.  Again, I am learning loads about layering and color.  (can I just say here that Tina is genius personified?)

Here is a photo that may give you some sense of scale.  It’s overwhelming how big this thing is…. but then again, how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time…..

That old elephant quote is a good one to keep on hand for life sometimes.

Art is not the only Big, Challenging, Overwhelming thing in my sphere lately.  Anyone who has read this blog or knows me in any small way really, knows that I am in the midst of some hard stuff lately.  This time last year we lost one of our own to a brutal tragedy.  13 year old Esme Kenney – friend, daughter, girlfriend and so much more, was killed while out on a jog, on a pretty day, March 7, 2009.   It was the first time she had ever gone beyond the end of her driveway on her own.  This past year has been one of the sort of grief that changes people in unexpected ways.  None of us could have, in a million years, ever imagined ourselves as part of this story, and yet, here we are.  In other posts I have chronicled some of what is happening to create a lasting artistic legacy to Esme, and I will continue to do so as we get Esme’s Sculpture built.

This week we marked the one year anniversary of Esme’s passing.  She is missed by so many and it’s hard to even wrap words around that sentiment.  Sadly, along with the anniversary, we have had to endure the trial of Esme’s killer.  One day after the first anniversary of Esme’s death, her mom, my dear friend Lisa, testified in court as to what happened the day she found her only child to be missing.

As a navy wife, years ago, I had the honor and privilege to witness some good friends give birth to their children.  Witnessing a mother giving birth is a wondrous and difficult thing.  There is really nothing you can do as a friend, coach or “cheerleader”.  It is a dance between mother and child.  One can only merely witness.  Surely you dads out there know how this is.  Watching Lisa testify on monday reminded me quite a bit of this birthing process.  I could only sit in the gallery of the court room and watch a mom do her thing.  The only way she knew how.  None of us could do it for her.  We could only merely witness, as Lisa did the most difficult thing a Mother is ever called upon to do.  She stood up and told her truth, Esme’s truth, as she knew it, on the day that she was killed.  She was strong and vulnerable… and so powerful, as all good mothers are.  I was in awe.

A week before the anniversary and just before the trial, a group of us headed down to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky to prepare for the days and weeks ahead.  To fill our proverbial cups with that which feeds us.  Some quiet, some time in nature, some togetherness with close friends.  We created as close a circle of positive energy, song, love, art, music and sisterhood as we could. Just outside of the circle that we created as friends, was that of our families and network of more friends who made it possible for us to go away for a couple of days to be together at this difficult time.  In the midst of the pressure filled time that I have chronicled above, I am fortunate to be working with a project manager with such flexibility that I was able to get away for this weekend.  Same goes for my ever supportive spouse.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  I think the same goes for all of us.  It just simply takes a village.  Period.  Below are some images from our time in the gorge…..

Lots of ice, with a hit of spring in the air….

even Buddha has boogers when it’s cold.

One afternoon I felt like a cat with the sun streaming in….

There were some wildly colored mushrooms in the woods.  These are looking pretty deadly!

such beauty…

We concentrated on beauty all weekend.  I have learned that fresh flowers are a necessity.

Sometimes this is what life feels like.  but if we are all feeling the squeeze together, perhaps there are moments when it’s not so bad.