Recently I’ve participated in some online workshop-gatherings of a sort. Neither have been “classes” per se but rather more intended as an artistic shot in the arm – a path to creative exercise that isn’t my own regularly trodden path.
It is good to get out of one’s own way sometimes. In this strange era of no teaching or traveling, barely making anything of note (besides a fair amount of really good food), there comes this opportunity to step outside of my norm, to tune out this world gone mad for an hour or so once a week. It has been good. Creating space for some play time has re-enlivened a few tried and true practices which had gone a bit stale over the course of the pandemic. One such practice is that of my bedside sketchbook.
I came to the tail end of that little bedside book and it’s rich with interesting characters. I’ve no idea who they are or why they are, they just are.
Some of them might be worth developing further one day, so as not to be trapped for eternity in the pages of a small book, but we shall see. For now, here are a few of my favorites…
Sometimes, these Fine Folk would escape the bedside and make their way into the day book, alongside bits of poetry, to-do lists and the keeping of a calendar. I welcome them too.
Yesterday I slipped into the art store before heading into the concertina shop. I splurged on new versions of red and blue in the oil paints. I also picked up a cheap little sketchbook to begin another volume of the bedside book.
It is nothing fancy, I just use pencil in it anyway, so no need for fancy. I collaged the cover to make it my own, and will set it on the bedside table with a newly sharpened pencil to see who pays a visit before I collapse into a restless sleep.
I am restless due to current events and this raging pandemic and all that goes with it. As I write this, I am receiving text messages from family and far flung friends with the news that the president has once again been impeached. This is good news indeed, I think. But honestly, I am weary. Weary of ignorance and misinformation and cruelty. I hope we can move through all this and one day gain footing on a sense of normality, whatever that may look like after these horrifying past months and years. But time will tell.
For now, there is puppy kindergarten beginning this evening. There are more meals to attempt which feed our bodies in healthy ways. The sun shone today a good bit as well. All is not lost, at least right here at home. And that is what I cling to just now. I hope you are doing well and hugging those you can.
“A nomadic bird, Snowy Owl relocates when the weather changes. In January 2012 rising numbers of Snowy Owls started migrating in mass numbers from the Arctic to many parts of the United States. One leading researcher described the migration as ‘unbelievable’. Another researcher called this the most significant wildlife event in decades.
Owls have been seen in indigenous cultures to be predicative of weather changes, and Snowy Owl is now showing us that as the Earth evolves we, too, must move and flow with the changes.
Snowy Owl blended in with the snow of the Arctic but stands out in contrast in more southerly environments. One message we can interpret from this is that as the Earth changes we need to come out of hiding and be seen. If you found comfort in blending in with your surroundings, the goddess energies, the feminine, might now be asking you to stand out and make your strengths known. It is time to share what is bubbling up from deep within you, to show up and be seen and heard.”
~Sandra Ingerman and Lyn Roberts – Speaking With Nature
Spring has sprung here in Ohio. I arrived back only a few days ago, and today must get back into the world properly, spending a few hours at the shop and pursuing a shadow-box style frame for an plants-themed art project due quite soon.
(pssst. Here’s the start of that project, begun in Antigua…..)
I’ll admit, I miss Antigua and it’s garish semi-tropical plant life. And I miss my garish semi-tropical self as well. In spite of the language barrier and the “foreignness” of food and drink, air and sounds, I felt so well adjusted down there. Even with being “in charge” of things, hosting two separate groups of artists. It was a lot to be sure, but I slept well and my anxiety was low. I felt unfurled and properly relaxed, even in the midst of Semana Santa chaos and the weight of responsibility in my work.
Looking back and attempting to find a pattern, I realized that part of this was the time I spent in my garden before leaving for Guatemala. It was time spent tidying up a bit here and there and crafting gentle boundaries for the deer to allow some growth to happen in the plant-life and trees. There truly is nothing so grounding as digging in the dirt. So far, these boundaries are holding and things are bursting forth in splendor indeed.
Another important piece of the puzzle I have come to realize is that I didn’t spend very much time checking in on the social media outlets while down there. I had too much to attend to really. I’d post a bit on IG which posts automatically to FB and then occasionally I’d drop a sketch or so onto twitter with a hashtag or two. I know that in this day and age, it’s part of my job and part of how I sell the work that I do so that I can do more of it.
This is all well and good of course, as we do live in a modern world. But some of us, those who live close to the bone when it comes to mental health, must walk a careful balance when it comes to such temptations. It can be all too easy to get hooked on who likes what has been posted, who might perchance redistribute it in someway or comment on one thing or another. It can be all too easy to spend inordinate amounts of time looking at the work of others, while one’s own ideas wither and die beneath the surface of it all.
Social media makers have crafted a system that keeps us glued to our screens more than we should be and upon arriving back home, I melted back into those old habits. I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy reading and reacting to comments on my own work, as well as the engagement with the work and words of other artists and writers. But I realize something has to shift…..
The nice thing is, I pay attention to these trends in myself and could feel the anxiety creeping back into my bones. Though I had a good balance with the social media work while I was away, upon returning home to familiar territory I could feel the internal quandary of “not-good-enough” and comparison with everything else on the internet – that sense that I am never, ever doing quite enough to keep up with the rest of the world. Even as I enjoyed catching up with it all on some level. All of this is a bit ridiculous, I know, but there it is.
How is it that while in Antigua I could practically feel a proper book pitch bubbling together just under the surface while upon returning home find myself back in the sludge- swamp of insecurities that so marks my day to day? How can ideas be so clear and firm on one day in one place, only to scatter to the wind when “real life” gets back into gear.
“It is time to share what is bubbling up from deep within you, to show up and be seen and heard.”
A dear friend of mine, who shares my deep love of metaphor and signs, shared the owl quote from above with me yesterday as I was writing up the post about this latest journey. How was she to know that tecolote (just one of the many Spanish words for “owl”) had featured prominently in our time in Guatemala? So prominently in fact that I picked up a mask of owl to bring a lovely burst of color to our front entryway….
Not so very long ago, in autumn, I made a painting with owl which was shown in winter at the local art center. My friend and I decided that perhaps this was just the beginning of my journey to “showing up and being seen and heard” properly, which is at once scary and exciting. That even then, tecolote was talking to me.
I long to burst forth with so many ideas that I’ve literally had for decades but I find I always have time for every-thing and every-one else, while setting aside my own work in the process. It’s classic avoidance behavior and I am guilty as charged. And so, with this in mind, I logged off of two of the largest time-sucks in the social media realm – facebook and twitter. For now I shall leave instagram on so that I can post pictures there and announce when I share a blogpost. But I am carefully monitoring even that. My intention is to write a bit more here on the blog. Sketch more. Allow the disparate ideas to trust me to bring them to light in their own way, in their own splendor.
Gardens must be tended. With each journey to far away lands, I learn more about how better to tend to my very own garden, both literally and metaphorically. I’d love it if you drop me a line here now and then, and let me know what you think as I sink my roots into deeper soil. I’ll admit I do still enjoy a nod from outside myself now and again.
I do not know how to make a “real” book pitch. I have 11 years of writing on this blog and I am told it is of value and worthwhile. And so perhaps I shall spend some time reading my own writing and sampling that to send off to agents and publishers. So far, I have only really been sending off illustrations here and there. If I were to state it clearly, I’d love to see a little published book with my thoughts and sketches of my reacquaintance with the country of Guatemala. A little book that might inspire others to dig into the wildness of their own past and see it bloom through new eyes. I do not know. I only know, I must do a better job of trusting in my own vision, instead of always permitting myself to view the world through the vision of others. *
*don’t worry, I will still keep track of things which make my heart sing and I will always share them here. The world is too filled with beauty to spend all one’s time narcissistically navel-gazing. 🙂
The other day on NPR I heard that *strangely*, the world’s collective attention span is getting shorter (I know, *gasp!*) I know this to be true for myself and it’s another reason for paring down my social media usage. Here’s to trusting one’s own vision and forging forth on longer term, deeper projects – and bringing them to fruition. I’d love to know if you are doing something similar in your own relationship to social media, and how you find and keep that balance.
This is a world gone mad. Too many things to take in, too much heartache for a body to navigate really. The things I love which carry me into the gentle places of my soul and self and which keep me grounded when the winds do blow have suffered for lack of care. I look at this little home of mine here on the interwebs and realize that it’s been since August that I’ve written. It is not as if I have not written, or drawn, or painted in general. Just not here, where even when no one is reading, it matters most.
Today I took to the woods with one of our trusty dogs, the one and only wild Iris Rose, to ponder a plan of how to negotiate the dangerous waters of our time in a sustainable balanced manner. It is October, my most favorite month of the year. I adore autumn and all it has to offer in the way of cooler temperatures, misty mornings and the desire to get the knitting needles clicking once more….
We admired the colors signaling a late but welcome change of season….
I played a bit with my fancy camera which, like this blog space, has grown a bit dusty with disuse.
The pace of things in the world has me feeling a bit weary. All this running and seemingly little to show for it. The season and my soul alike beg for a backing off, a swing toward the internal to come once more to the still point of my personal center. This country, and the world at large could stand the same I believe.
With the dark season ahead, one often fraught with personal mental health challenges, I am looking back with pride on a few months of wondrous productivity and activity whilst simultaneously crafting a structure of future quietude to keep the wolves at bay in the months ahead.
The Resistance, as it stands, is in full swing and its toiling does take up space and energy. I quite mindfully make the space necessary to be of service in these dark times but must balance that of course. There is canvassing and volunteering and much reading to stay informed. The news is too much to keep up with and it can drag a soul down to low places, but I do my best. I am careful to turn it all off and hit the paints or the road when I need a break.
The flurry of work and words in the past couple of months have been exciting to birth forth. Here I share a few things that have been occupying my eye, my keyboard and notebook, my interest and my heart. It is my hope that I take to engaging more here in this space in the coming months as it forces me, in the best way possible, to slow down. To think about what I am writing and the images I share. Social media channels are wondrous in their own way, and I certainly find myself lurking in the more creative corners of their hallowed halls. There is so much to inspire. But here, in my own designated space, I can think through my fingers….
“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”
….and maybe go a little deeper.
So, last I left you dear reader, it was August, and so very hot. September came along and while the heat gave no break, I encountered a small challenge to make a drawing a day in 1″ square scale. This painterly adventure, combined with a whirlwind trip to Taos, NM was balm indeed to a tired soul….
I completed the challenge and made 30 of these little works.
Even when the news did say there were magnificent displays of ill will and malevolence.
Toward the end of the month of September, my long time, dear friend Kristin (whom you may remember from this post) and I somehow managed to make our way from Ohio (me) and Vermont (she) to Chicago for a seamless meet-up at O’Hare and on to a quick flight out to New Mexico. The opportunity to introduce a dear one to one’s soul home is a gift indeed and we savored every second. Not much was catalogued of our time there, but we did manage some image captures…..
“It’s the most wonderful place you can imagine. It’s so beautiful there. It’s ridiculous.” ~Georgia O’Keeffe
We timed our visit with the Feast of San Geronimo at Taos Pueblo (every year on September 30th, you should go) which enabled me to see and visit with some dear friends there at a very sacred time. It was a gift and blessing to share these folks and this place who are so dear to me, with an old friend from the way back, equally as dear. Kristin said to me at one point, “You’ve built a whole world here, Ames.” I do believe I have. I am deeply grateful.
Our journey was far too short for a proper catch up. To be honest, in spite of the splendor we encountered, we spent a good deal of time in a state of deep grief over the recent goings on at the Supreme Court. There is a collective, primal scream of rage emanating from the women in my life over doing this all over again. How many times has this story been lived, eh? Though this time is was so public, and so top-level. I am still grieving.
But, and this is the thing, somehow we must keep going……..
And so, once home, early autumn life began with a focus toward music each weekend at the Riley School of Irish Music. Those of us who love the music aim to bring just a smidge of this video below to our own playing….
While we may never reach this level, we did manage to play our annual ceili dance once more and folks who attended seemed to enjoy it. Chatting with our caller, Éamonn de Cógáin after the dance, he remarked, “This is growing!!” And indeed it is.
The season brings with it, as mentioned before, a renewed commitment to new needle bound adventures. I’ve invested in some gorgeous wool from my local knit shop to attempt the crafting of a sweater. We shall see…. But in the meantime, it’s always fun to get to know the source of all things wool.
And maybe even attempt a sketch or two.
Perhaps you too are experiencing a bit of whiplash of the soul. One minute darkness and rage – the next minute, a shaft of light to pierce that darkness and provide a respite. We here are fortunate to have these moments of lightness. To make art and craft worlds with words is a privilege indeed, and one I do not take for granted. I believe to my core that it is an act of resistance to play music, and craft beauty with line, paint and words. I am fortunate to have the support of family and my day job that enable me to live this artful life. Not everyone can. Yet somehow, artists get the job done, one way or another. Here are just a few whom I support and so should you…..
And so where does this all leave me? As you can see, there’s been a great deal of output here in the form of energy and a good bit of intake as well which is wonderful. But my hope is that I can slow it all down a bit. To corral things to more depth and to a more manageable realm for me as an artist. I like to say that I am a crock pot in this world of microwaves.
My hub and I are running away a couple of days after the election to Guatemala to visit friends and make some art – to shore up our souls for what’s to come in our lives personally and collectively, good or ill.
We will get home just before Thanksgiving (yes, I’ve ordered the bird from our favorite market vendor.) I plan to write here on this blog-space from down there if I can connect, as it’s one of the most inspiring places. So do stay tuned.
Wherever this reading finds you, I hope you are finding some gentility in this rough world. We are at a crossroads as human beings and we have some decisions to make as to the path ahead. For me, it’s one of kindness and art making.
“Hang in there, make art, be kind.” ~Neil Gaiman in response to the news of Brazil’s election of a nationalist, right wing president. To my friends in Brazil, we are here for 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!
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.
I’ve technically been here in Antigua Guatemala for a day. Just shy of 24 hours. And in that time I’ve seen a city of history alive and laughing. I’ve heard many tongues being spoken upon the breeze. One conversation between a lovely, crackling fireworks display to end a raucous saturday evening in town and the volcano in the distance which answered with its own beautiful breath of fire and light in the distance.
Life happens amongst the rooftops and streets here. Creature comforts being the first order of business for this weary traveler, we had a snack before bed late last night up the street and coffee and a hearty breakfast on a local rooftop this morning. The volcano was still whispering its thoughts on the breeze. After breakfast we followed rumors of a procesión happening a number of blocks away. A celebration of the Lenten season.
Temporary carpets were being delicately installed along the streets where the procession would return them to dust.
It was hot, diligent work. The carpets (alfombras) were crafted of tinted saw dust, raffia, flowers and vegetables.
Some had a way of looking at us.
Soon we reached the center of all the activity, Santa Ana Church.
Here, hundreds (thousands?) of faithful folk gathered to watch the spectacle. I am told this happens every Sunday leading up to Easter Holy Week when things are happening every day by then. But all in all, we were lucky to witness what we did.
After the crush of humanity it was great to get lunch and head back to our hotel, Posada San Sebastián which is a wonderland really. And a feast for the senses for anyone with a whimsical bent.
This special place contains many collected items set around in groupings. Such as chairs.
And my personal favorite, a cabinet chock full of baby Jesus.
Yes it’s true.
One might think that with barely a day here, all of this activity might have had us so busy as to forget our art making. But I did manage a page in between times. And after some rest, tomorrow will bring more. Sometimes it’s important just to fully soak up what’s in front of you in the moment .
Good night watercolor set. Goodnight baby Jesus. Goodnight chatty neighbor.
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
It is my favorite sort of day. One which began inspired and meditative, flowing along at my own pace, following my nose in an artful way, with no lists or have-tos clouding my inner compass.
Today I have been graced with the following….
Meditation at the very tip of my pencils.
Green chili stew on my stove top. (I don’t eat much meat, but this stew’s protein came from my friends over at Grassroots Farm. I am so very grateful for their work.)
Many (many) mugs full of tea. It’s fuel.
Ghosts at my doorstep. It is a liminal time of year, is it not?
Cool autumnal breezes in the tree tops. We have been afforded a most beautiful fall season. This doesn’t happen every year. It is a gift.
The warm glow of candlelight on my studio window. (The gorgeous candle is by my favorite honey and wax peddlers, Bee Haven to be found locally here in Cincinnati at Findlay Market on week ends.
A four legged friend who is up for adventure and doesn’t talk that much.
and finally, some paint on my paint brush. I’ve been coaxing a little painting along lately who is not so keen to tell me all of her secrets. She is to be wooed slowly it would seem. I am giving her time and space to tell me what she knows. We will go from there. But this much I do know…..
she knows of the power in the flutter of a moth’s wing. she knows she must always have a basket handy for carrying the gatherings, (though what is in her basket, I do not yet know). she spends a great deal of time outside as it tends to keep her thoughts clear.
Awoke this morning to the call of magpies. A bit bleary eyed after a long day of travel but oh so grateful to be here.
And so I wandered down for a cup of coffee and a stroll….
All is quiet so far. No students to greet just yet. Few other guests at all really. I treasure these relatively rare quiet moments at Mabel’s.
It’s so good to be back in a small town atmosphere. So close to Big Nature, yet I can also hear summer ball practice being held over at the park and the local church chiming the time.
Upon arrival last night, I was just in time to catch the premier of a beautiful new documentary by my friend and film maker Jody McNicholas called Longshotsville. Its all about a group of local actors seeking their best art and truest selves through stage and film acting. So many local folks were there, people I count as friends now since I return once or twice a year. It was refreshing to have a good cry and root for the creative process these young artists are seeking.
This is Taos. A place that demands that you be here. Now. Which I mostly try to be at home as well. But in places like this, the connection to self, to the present moment as it stands, seems more accesible somehow.
Today is my 46th birthday. As is often the case this time of year, things are in a state of semi-controlled chaotic flux, what with school starting soon and Big Moves happening for both of the kids. Jack returned from Brazil just in time to join us on our annual summer sojourn to the coast of Maine and is now in the process of returning to his collegiate life across town. Meanwhile, in similar fashion, our youngest, Madeleine, is making lists and preparatory pilings of her own as we move her into a dormitory at Ohio State University next week. Things are getting real. They are embarking on a world of their own making….
All of this is, as expected, a little on the bittersweet side of life. But it is also the Way Of Things. This is why we raise them. So that they can hopefully head out into productive lives of their own. It is time for us to focus back on ourselves for the first time in ages. I for one am feeling a delicious fire burning in my art work, music and in my inner life, while the Hub, Tony, has plans of his own involving far flung watery places to explore. It is an exciting time for all of us.
So let me just catch you up a bit on happenings since I last wrote. As you now know, I am in the process of putting together a new workshop, launching in February. I’ve had quite a bit of interest, and a few sign ups too! And while I have been mostly on the road since the announcement and not able to ‘blast’ it properly as of yet, it is my hope that this class will be a ‘go’ with just enough folks to make it a reality. Do let me know if you have any questions!
Ah yes, the road. How it beckons!! Last I touched base here at my online home, I was off to a week of full on music at Swannanoa.
This was a week of complete bliss for me personally. Tearful reunions with people I only get to see once a year. We fell straight into tunes and laughter and musical mayhem that only ‘band camp’ can provide. I opted for two classes, both in flute, with two of my favorite instructors/musicians/people on the planet, Kevin Crawford and Nuala Kennedy.
They are not only brilliant teachers and players but they are absolutely hilarious to spend time with. In my own teaching I try to emulate the sense of fun and level of laughter I’ve known in classes with these two. It is through a childlike sense of play and creative experimentation that the best learning is to be had. Learning a creative pursuit as an adult can be daunting! Whether it’s playing a musical instrument, or painting a picture, adults take themselves (ourselves!) so seriously. Getting out of our own way is half the battle. I am still riding the wave of magic and beauty of that week, with renewed gusto to practice my tunes, to keep learning and improving. I intend to make it back to this week again next year. There is such a sense of ‘Brigadoon‘ to it all, magically happening each summer and then just like that, it’s gone….
Of course, if you follow my summer patterns at all, you know that no summer is complete without a dip of my toes into the ocean in my soul’s home, Maine….
Ginger Small and I were reunited up there as I’d heard very little from her all summer. And we have much work to do!
I spent a fair amount of time just gazing out to sea and doodling….
…that is, when I wasn’t partaking of the bounty of the ocean. YUM!
Our time in Maine usually allows for a bit of the ocean and a bit of the lakeside as well. I did a fair amount of oogling and doodling there as well.
It is a time we treasure, and each year we know it might be the last where everyone attends. Any next year could see the kids doing their own thing elsewhere. So while I painted and sketched a good bit, and came up with a number of tiny paintings, it is never enough.
Maine tugs at my heart strings harder and harder each year. Every year, it gets more difficult to leave the fresh salt air and cool breezes available there.
“She loves the serene brutality of the ocean, loves the electric power she felt with each breath of wet, briny air.” ~Holly Black
Having lived there once upon a time, I know life in New England is not all summer time and roses. Winters are cold and long. But I simply must spend more time there.
“When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.” ~Ranier Maria Rilke
For a while now, my dear, long time friend Amy (she who attended to the births of my children, my soul-sister) and I have admired the whimsical, colorful world of artist Henry Isaacs.
His paintings are impressionistic, energetic, and brimming with color that is at once straightforward and complex. They are the kind of paintings that make me yearn to pick up a paint brush and paint. But not in my usual sketchy fashion.
I’ve had this yearning to paint for awhile now. And I have painted. Here and there. I’ve made some paintings that I like a fair bit. While others have lacked the intensity I wanted them to have. They often feel too cautious to me. I’m not quite sure how to approach the materials, having had only nominal amounts of instruction in this particular way of art-making. Often as soon as I have found my way into a painting, it’s time to quit to attend to Life. And by my next visit to it, I’ve lost the steam. Clearly, I need some help.
So in honor of everyone in this household going off and learning new things and forging exciting new paths, I am heading back to the coast of Maine in just a few weeks to take a workshop with Henry Isaacs. I am so very excited to learn some new ways of approaching paint and then applying these lessons to the sights and sounds I find so enchanting by the ocean.
“I have sea foam in my veins, for I understand the language of the waves.” ~Le Testament d’Orphee
Perhaps I may get the opportunity to paint the ocean of sage in the high desert of New Mexico at some point as well. Again, something I have yearned to capture, but outside of my sketches, have never seemed to accomplish successfully.
I believe in following the voice of one’s heart. That intuitive voice that whispers ‘this, yes, this!!!!’.
I’m following that voice as much as I can these days. My Right Work seems to be a three-pronged dance made up of teaching workshops in beauty-filled places, making up whimsical stories and pictures for the young at heart, and just painting/sketching/drawing by myself (also in beauty-filled places). In between there I’ll work the day job when I can, manage the comings and goings of these adult children of mine, and try to keep this house in some sort of working order. Oh yeah, and music. Always music.
Today is a day of musing. Pondering my life’s path. I feel like the 46 year old me is waving enthusiastically to a younger version of me as if to say ‘This way! This way! Aside from a few bumps in the road here and there, life’s going along quite nicely just now! Just hang on!’ Because it is going along quite nicely actually.
I’m excited at the timing of this painting workshop opportunity, as it falls just as I have a moment to catch my breath before really needing to buckle down to work this fall on February’s offering. I get another taste of salty Maine sea air before they must batten down the hatches for yet another winter. My kids will be off doing their own thing for the first time really ever. I’m thrilled and excited and incredibly grateful for all of it.
Happy birthday to me.
….and here are some of the new Tiny Offerings from recent travels. Let me know if you would like to own one!