The woodland is quiet all around. Everyone, sheltering in place. But if you listen closely to the ground, and in the trees, you might hear the whisper of music and conversation….
It would seem that the magical mycelial network has been working overtime making sure that all our animal friends are counted and cared for and have enough company, even for the most solitary among them.
The kettle is on, the tunes are being practiced, and we all merely….
wait. Patiently. Kindly. alone, but together.
*author’s note. This is WEEK 20!! Thank you for following along on the musical misadventures of sweet John Joe Badger. As you may have guessed, he’s a bit of me combined with the best bits of others as well to become his very own self. I am really enjoying this series. JJB’s world reflects our own, of course. But hopefully with a bit more whimsy and sweetness in this dark and uncertain world of our own.
This morning, just after my first cup of coffee, an autumnal sonic assault begins. A murderous whirring of epic proportions.
The gas powered leaf blower.
It is nigh impossible to think for oneself amidst the din of modernity, particularly in suburbia, where the moving of leaves around seems to point to some sort of status.
I wonder, what we might hear if we were afforded an opportunity to listen deeper. To listen to the miniscule preparations being made by the smallest of creatures….
Roll, roll, grumble, grumble, roll…
The sounds of a gathering of food stuffs for the winter season. Acorns, walnuts.
Crack, snap, crack, crack, stack…..
Further gathering and arranging of sticks and wood and kindling with which to warm ourselves in the months to come. Even the smallest of fallen twigs might be of use.
Perhaps we hear the click, click, click of knitting needles working woolens into garments for bracing against autumnal winds…..
Maybe we hear the gentle felling of ripened fungi in the forest, so that they might be dried and saved for soup making.
What sorts of sounds do you listen for when the leaf blowers finally run out of gasoline? How can we better listen to the quietude offered to us by the smallest of woodland creatures? How might we better listen to ourselves?
But first, there are tunes to play (yay!!… below I’ll list where we are playing locally in coming days) lists to attend to, errands to run.
In the meantime a favorite part of the work I do is to collect bits of ‘swag’ to present to my students upon arrival in whatever destination we may find ourselves. For the Antigua trip, I’ll gather a few things once I arrive to combine with things I’ve gathered here in Ohio- like little altoid watercolor sets to work with (this allows people to try new colors which might not be available in their own sets and to play with limiting their palette as an exercise).
I’ve crafted a keepsake illustrated map of some of our favorite haunts in Antigua which I’ll reproduce for my students. It’s fun! It is my hope that not only will this come in handy to know where they are as we sketch the city, but will also encourage them to create their own version in their own travel journals. We must always map our own course, I do believe.
There are stickers…. always stickers…..
….which encourage a bit of ‘mixed media -ness’ in our books. I’m sure to have a few more tricks up my sleeve but really the true gift will be that of spending time together, slowing down and enjoying this World Unesco Heritage city in all its glory. To say I am excited to return would be an understatement.
Here at home I have been gifted some tree cuttings to root as I re-think the stewardship of our little patch of land. I am mindful of what needs to be done in the garden, and perhaps more importantly, what needs NOT be done as well. Do check out the work of We Are The Ark in the hopes of re-wilding small places to create a network of healing in these times.
While I was making stickers at the library today for my workshops, I saved a bit of time to make some stickers for this cause as well. I’ve mentioned this notion of holding two things at once in our hearts, yes? We must do the work we do in the day to day, while also tending the wild places in the corners of our gardens and spreading the word about the need to be more mindful in this world. Limiting consumption where we can.
In this same spirit I am following closely the work of young activists who are striking from school when and where they can (usually Friday’s but I know it can vary region to region). Emma Reynolds has pulled together a number of illustrators to show solidarity with these brave voices and here is my little drawing…
That is the news from today. For now I am off to rehearse tunes with my musical mates. We don’t often have microphones thrust in front of us, and so we take a bit of time to practice for these once-yearly gigs.
You can find me here in the coming days……
Saturday: Arnolds Bar and Grill 8-1130 pm
Sunday: B-List Bar in Bellevue KY 4 pm-730 ish then Palm Court at the Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel 9-12 (this is quite fancy)
I hope to see you there if you are local to this little river valley. More soon as I get set to hit the road very soon…..
For my friends out west, there is also a weekend sketch workshop with me in the Santa Cruz area slated for May 18 and 19, 2019. Send me an email if you are interested!! (linked is my post about this year’s trip, which was wonderful!)
And below, I’ll catch you up a bit on the landing home after a most wonderful summer……
The future is indeed very bright around here. We ‘gotta wear shades’ as they say. This magical gypsy summer of serious traveling has left me feeling newly and deeply inspired, even unmoored and untethered at times. Summer is always a a season of churning and resetting, but this year these feelings are exceptionally poignant and rich. I’ve had so much time to think about things, what with all the flying and driving and waiting and watching along the way from place to place to place.
A bit of art was crafted here and there while on the road, but mostly I found myself in a place of keen inner observation, a bird’s eye viewing of the self just now and the work currently at hand.
This summer I pondered a great deal about what in the world I am up to in this artful life (age appropriate behavior, as I just turned 49 the other day!!). So many proverbially spinning plates all going at once, and there’s me, the mad, rushing spinner, jumping from thing to thing, spin, spin, spin, lest it all come crashing down around me. At least, that is how it feels some days. On other days, the balance of things settles deeply into my heart and I just know I am on the right track, in spite of all the wobbly plates.
“Balance. It was all about balance. That had been one of the first things that she had learned: the centre of the seesaw has neither up nor down, but upness and downness flow through it while it remains unmoved. You had to be the centre of the seesaw so the pain flowed through you, not into you. It was very hard. But she could do it!”
― Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight
Recently, I was listening to a lovely chat between Krista Tippet and Liz Gilbert on the nature of creativity and the notion of choosing curiosity over fear. (I like this notion a lot.) There are many quotable gems throughout this interview and I highly recommend you take a listen to the unedited version of it. There was one small thing though that made me stop the recording at one point and run for the journal to write it down. Gilbert was talking of an inspirational favorite poet of hers called Jack Gilbert (no relation) who was described by his students at one point as being a teacher who –
“didn’t necessarily teach us so much HOW to write a poem, but rather WHY to write a poem.”
This statement stopped me in my tracks. In some strange way, this philosophical shift encapsulates the work I do with travel journaling in my own workshops. Yes, of course we do a bit of Drawing 101, and Basic Use of Watercolors, and etc. But more importantly, we work together to get to the whyof it all. Why even bother to draw or paint or capture quotes in a little book which no one besides our patient loved ones will ever see?
Somehow, through the experiences shared as fellow artists, we distill these notions into the inspiration to do the work and figure out why along the way. It is all about enchantment.
And so, while I do teach the how-toalong with my fellow sketchers locally, my heart of hearts is invested in the why of it all, which is at the core of my travel based workshops.
Coming to this realization has helped me connect the dots a bit in the work that I do. How the practice of local “Urban Sketching” might relate to and feed my passion for making anthropomorphic illustrations of animals having people-like adventures. How these illustrations might also be “serious” enough to feed the fine-art branch of my artistic interests (i.e., paintings, sans hamsters). How the fiber-based arts of embroidery and knitting might serve as idea-hatching meditations (whilst on the surface they may look like netflix-binging in my pajamas). And how all of these varied practices might actually come together to make the workshops I teach quite different than others because they come from a very unique place, me.
And now here it is, not even the end of August, and I am already a feeling a little less angsty about work. A bit more centered in forging forward in all of it, varied though it may be. I am excited to have the dates and costs set for 2019’s offerings so get those checks in the mail lads!!
It feels good to be back home in this ol’ river valley of ours for a couple of months before the need to escape it all once more overtakes me and I hit the road again.
But for now, I am settled in my little nest, catching up on work at the shop, drawing and painting and writing every day possible and trusting that all will be well.
ps. Many of you have been asking when an Ireland based workshop might happen. As of this writing, the right place has not quite found me yet. And place is important. We’d need a home base, something with space for us to live while we work (lodging AND classroom space); a place which has available local meal-catering options we could hire in if needed, walkability to a local village (because, MUSIC!) and preferably near the sea. If you have any places on the emerald Isle to suggest, do let me know! In the meantime, I plan to get back to Ireland on me own via artist’s residencies and visits to friends when at all possible. I’ll keep you posted!
“You can think and you can fight, but the world’s always movin’, and if you wanna stay ahead you gotta dance.”
— Terry Pratchett
Yesterday a number of us gathered at the local Irish Heritage Center to celebrate a very special birthday. Our beloved Riley School of Irish Music turns 20 this year and to mark the occasion, we put on a ceili, which could be described as like a wedding, only without the happy couple. There was music from our ceili band, much dancing, called and instructed by the one and only Éamonn de Cógáin, lots of food and drink to be had, and all in all was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.
It is difficult to describe the place the Riley School has held in my life personally, and in the collective life of our family. The music my kids (one more than the other) and I have learned and played over the years has changed us all for the better. We have life long friendships now which we’d have never found without this school. I began at the school as a mere parent accompanying my child to fiddle lessons – and I found my tunes and my tribe. This music has taught me many things which apply to a life well lived and art well made. I’ve learned to be less shy, to laugh more, to make mistakes and keep on playing. My son has gone on to pursue music as a profession and my daughter can still pluck out a few tunes on the banjo. (Party tricks do come in handy and one must always be ready to surprise people.) We are better because of this little school which teaches what some might call a simple folk music. Which I suppose it is. But it’s complexity is to measured by the effect it has on the lives it touches. Musicians play so that dancers might dance, at least in the Irish tradition. It was lovely to have such intrepid souls out to dance this day, many mere beginners.
But soon our caller Éamonn had everyone laughing and trying steps and smiling and dancing.
With all of the malcontent the recent political happenings has dredged up, I have been thinking a lot about the place of music and artfull-ness, and dancing and laughing in the face of all of it. I imagine that those who played Irish music over in Ireland during the troubles certainly must have played in spite of, or perhaps because of, difficult times. And we do too, now, in these difficult times. To be fair, I suppose many voters do not think we are in difficult times with our new leadership choice. Though I certainly do.
And so, it is more important than ever to dance. To play our favorite tunes with vim and vigor. To paint the brightest of pictures. After all, we are all running along on the hamster-wheel of life.
I hear told that there was a similar dance, also with a band, in the town square of HamsterTown. One wonders what tunes they danced to that day, and whether their caller could even hold a candle to our Éamonn. I imagine, he’d have given him a run for his money…
I am just returned from an intensely inspiring conference at the Mazza Museum, an oasis of beauty and innocence in northwestern Ohio of all places. If you are anywhere near Findlay, Ohio and have an interest in or love of children’s picture books, I highly recommend a visit. The weekend conference seemed to be geared toward teachers and librarians, the very folks who use and champion the work of people who make illustrated books for kids (in whose ranks I will be one day!!) There were also a couple of us art folks lurking in the audience as well of course but it was really wonderful to meet such lovely educators and book enthusiasts.
The panel of authors and artists was top notch.
We heard from David Wiesner who spoke eloquently about “worlds within worlds within worlds”. He signed not only the book I picked up for my nephew, but also my sketch book. I consider this inspiring glitter to have been bestowed upon my lowly book.
Next day we heard about “sharing the truth of the world”, “clinging to a raft in a sea of doubt”, and how publishing a book is like an electrical impulse going pole to pole to pole from author Tony Abbot. He also discussed the tremendous responsibility behind the notion of telling a good story, whether through words, pictures, or both.
“Children are a much more important audience than adults.” ~Laurie Halse Anderson
Sergio Ruzzier talked of his love of picture books as a child when the ones with too many words proved overwhelming. I am anxious to try out pen and ink in a new way after his demonstration and talk. His books are beautiful, and his lecture was really entertaining.
Brian Biggs’ series Tinytown books (among stacks of many he’s made) are all about “creating a world I want to live in.” Amen.
Nikki McClure had me in tears during her speech, as I have been on the verge of tears ever since the election and all that has gone with it. She was honest and vulnerable in her talk as she too spoke of deep grief over the meaning of recent events. They are not trivial and are not politics as usual. She spoke straight to my heart.
“Make. Learn. Speak.”
“Books are a place of calm and centering.”
“Trust the child.”
“Draw. Draw. Draw. Thinking comes later.”
“Books should have food in them.”
“Use color to tell the story.”
“All you need is a pencil. All you need is a dream.” (in which I am, once again, weeping.)
Dan Santat finished off the conference, exhausted from what seems like a grueling touring schedule, with an inspiring talk about his own work and the trajectory it’s taken. He talked of embracing boredom, and being comfortable in your own skin as an artist. That is where one can find one’s individual style. I shared with him this sweet image of my good friend Alice who is a huge fan of Beekle.
All in all, it was just what my gentle heart needed after this past week. I had to drive through the heart of Trump-ville to get there but it was worth it. And I cried some more on the way home, allowing my grief to flow, although I know the conservatives who voted for our new President-Elect just don’t understand this depth of sadness and are asking us to get over it and stop being such crybabies.
Well here’s the thing. Perhaps it’s this election and all of the vitriol involved. Perhaps it’s the essence of middle age. But I am done being told, in ways subtle as well as straight up obvious, how to feel. About anything. To be an artist, in my truly humble opinion, is to have an open heart. To feel deeply whatever it is I am feeling. There is really no other way to our best work. And so I weep.
The Mazza conference was just the shot in the arm I needed just now. I feel recommitted to getting my stories and pictures out to publishers and eventually into the hands of teachers and librarians and children themselves. I had spent the days before this conference wondering how to move forward from here in a country so hell bent on moving backward in time. We had come so far and yet now, we tilt back into a time of rekindled hatred and distrust. It is heartbreaking.
So the pressure is on now, to give love a chance. I leave you here with some Bowie and Queen. In hope. Under Pressure.
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance
Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
Give love give love give love give love give love
Because love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the (People on streets) edge of the night
And loves (People on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves