John Joe Badger has worked and worked for weeks on his own, amidst countless cups of tea, and twigs on the fire in the woodstove. This week, in spite of his misgivings, he accepts the invitation of friends to share a few tunes. Perhaps he will try to play the one simple tune he’s (mostly) learned for them on his pipes. Or, more likely, he will play his flute or penny whistle.
But tunes are made to be shared. And for this John Joe is grateful.
……With much practicing, John Joe Badger has learnt most of a simple jig.He has invited a couple of his closest friends and confidants over for a cup of tea to share it with them.But lo!Just when John Joe reaches the B part, *phlooofff!!*….. An embarrassing blowout!His friends do their utmost not to laugh, as these things do happen.Especially in the beginning.
The fecks continue to fly, of course, yet John Joe carries on.His friends are delighted at his progress, in spite of the leaks, the blowouts and the goose-like cacophony of his playing.Keep practicing John Joe!Oh, and maybe a little twist of waxed hemp to shore up that connections between your bellows and your bag, yes?Yes.
~A TWIST OF HEMP~ week 3 of John Joe Badger’s journey into Uillean Piping……
John Joe is diligent in his efforts on wrestling the octopus-like instrument we call the Uillean Pipes. Gallant even! But there are times during this journey when one might hear some rather colorful phrases coming out of the woodshed, or round the kitchen door. John Joe realizes he has taken on a beastly task here, and that this will not be easy.
With every mistake, out of tune squawk, honk, or (occasionally, miraculoustly) note, John Joe looks up, takes another deep breath and tries again. Letting the flying curses fall where they may….
….. in which we deal with dryness.It is far too cold in the woodshed for John Joe Badger to practice his pipes.He must bring the noise making inside where it is warm and dry.Dry, yes.Winter is dry.And the pipes find themselves leaking air in all directions.What is John Joe to do???Well, he shores up leaky connections on his borrowed practice set with a twist of hemp thread, made sticky with a bit of beeswax.He puts a full kettle on the stove top to boil.These two things may help get John Joe through these trying, leaky, dry times.For today at least……
John Joe’s struggles are my own. I practice the pipes as much as I can, when I can find time alone in the house. They are loud! And not yet pleasant. (For others at least.) The dryness that comes with a “forced air” heating arrangement is mitigated a bit with cool mist humidification and of course, putting the kettle on as much as possible. It does help. And so does the bit of hemp and beeswax. It all feels very old fashioned. It’s testing parts of my brain and motor memory which need the exercise! I may never get to the point of playing this contraption out in the world. But who knows? I will say that I already have next week’s John Joe drawing idea in mind. And it involves flying curses. Til tuesday…..
Fine Folk grace the pages of my sketchbook, along with wise words from the wisdom keepers I trust. I look to these wisdom keepers as beacons, following their light, as will-o-the-wisp….. into the darkness.
One such beacon, writer Robert Macfarlane, was featured in an interview with Krista Tippett of the program On Being. They discuss a recent book of his called Underlandwhich is a gorgeous, lengthy tome; an exploration of the world beneath our feet as seen and sensed from a variety of angles. It’s the kind of book that deserves to be by one’s bedside to fill the mind with juicy and delicious language as a doorway into dreaming. This book apparently took Macfarlane 6 years to complete. He dipped into other projects along the way of course, but this one crept along, under everything else it would seem. It was worth the wait.
Underland explores a concept of Deep Time, one that is beyond human, but which can be tapped into by those of us with the proper notions to do so. If you have been reading my ideas here over the years, you know this is something I hold dear, this time-bending. I believe it is at the heart of the things we treasure as human beings. Good art, rich poetry, the ability to go beyond the day to day. To send our cultural tap roots down into the flow of All Things and perhaps channel something up. All of this of course takes time and practice. And there are no guarantees.
‘In verse, a pause in the rhythm of a line after a phrase; in choral work, a moment where singers might catch their breath.’
I really admire the depth of the work of writers such as Macfarlane, and I look to them for clues as to how to dig deeper into my own work. Art as well as writing. Even on social media channels, he and others like him make places like twitter and instagram into arenas of culture and idea-weaving. I aim to do the same, having curbed my own use of such channels into avenues of art and music. It’s a tricky balance in a world filled with instant sound-bytes and the next great and funny thing. Last week Macfarlane announced he will be off of twitter for a while with the word caesura and its definition.
I thought to myself, ‘I’d like to do that.’
The idea of taking a break from social media is by no means a new one, by myself or anyone else for that matter. There are books on digital detoxing which I have looked to when desperate for a break from it all. Lately, thankfully, I have not felt desperate to leave the online arenas of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I have them fairly well and carefully “curated” in order to see things which inspire me. New books to read, artists to research and learn something from, science to pique my curiosity and better my stewardship of my little part of the world. I choose when and how to get my “news” as that can be fraught with peril in this day and age. We must be careful what we feed ourselves, body and mind.
And yet, although not desperate to leave per se, I could use a break. What keeps me tethered to the usual channels is the business end of things. Usually, I am in marketing mode this time of year. Selling my classes to Taos and Guatemala. Hustling to show the world that yes, we go to beautiful places, have an amazing time together and make a bunch of gorgeous work. (WE DO!!!!! ) And this is all part of my job. But this year, I have been given a great gift….. My classes for 2020 are mostly sold out (there are two slots left in the second week of the Antigua offering. That’s it!) For once, I can relax a little bit. And so I am considering a break over the holidays.
If this idea comes to fruition, I’ll be off of twitter, facebook and instagram from Nov 29 – Jan 1.
I wonder sometimes, if I make something, or write something, but I don’t shout it into the void of the social media platforms, have I really created anything? This is the culture we are sold in this modern age. I would like to confront this culture, especially in my own mind. I’d like to follow some breadcrumbs of my own making just to see where they may lead. Without the pressure to report.
This will be an interesting experiment. I just began a weekly story idea which will continue to grow here, but folks will have to come find it, or wait until the New Year when I get back into the swing of things of sharing. Soon, I’ll be packing for Guatemala and sharing via instagram sun-kissed, color-washed images of our time in Antigua. It is in this way I beckon to future students to step into the sunshine with me and come on along!! But with the classes filled to brimming, and a lovely waitlist padded out for Taos, I feel I can take the social media break I’ve been craving for years, without having to crash and burn mentally to get it. It’s a good place to find myself.
So we shall see. It is always a balance. I may yet shift this plan into something less stringent. But I am always leaning toward trying a new tactic with regard to my presence in the online world. And for once I have the space to do so.
In other news…….
With Riley School out for break, I am back to sketching along with my mates in the Cincinnati Urban Sketchers. Last week we had a “boUrban sketchers” outing where we tasted bourbon at New Riff distillery. It was great fun!! Come along with us sometime!
I have a few paintings up at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center’s winter Collective show, EMERGE. This one below was the belle of the ball. I received many complements and offers to buy it. But alas, it was snatched up by a private collector just days before the show. I think the theme is one I’d like to explore further. The quietude of this piece seemed to speak to a number of people.
The other work on which I received a good bit of feedback is this little lovely, Bonny Hills, whose skies are filled with subtle color. This is a second theme I hope to explore further in more paintings in the new year. This one has not yet sold…. One of my fellow collective members said to me, I get the sense you were meant to be in Ireland. How right she is.
In the music arena, the Riley School of Irish music will present its annual holiday program Peace and Merriment, at 2 pm December 14. Our address is 2221 Slane Avenue in Cincinnati. Hope to see you there! We also play a weekly session out in town: 1st and 3rd Wednesdays we can be found at Ludlow Garage in Clifton, 2nd and 4th Tuesdays , Streetside Brewery on Eastern Avenue. Stop in and say hi!
Meet John Joe Badger. …. and his story in the coming weeks.
A borrowed practice set of Uillean Pipes. Loads upon loads of humility and patience. A fair bit of time. And patience. (Did we mention humility?) And humor too, of course. And we mustn’t forget the tea. Cups upon cups of tea. (I hear he’s partial to Lyon’s, with a splash of fresh milk).
These are just a few of the things John Joe Badger will need as he begins his journey down the perilous and noisy road of learning a bit about the Uillean piping tradition in Irish music. There will be blowouts, embarrassment, hours alone in the woodshed. (And more ungodly sounds!) But our John Joe is keen. He’s made a few friends on this same tricky path already and he’s acquired a teacher whom he’s fairly certain is a saint or perhaps an angel disguised as a fellow Irish musician.
This is week one of A Twist of Hemp. A little set of storied pictures of a timid badger making his way, albeit clumsily, down this musical path. Stay tuned!!
Rain is falling and it is said snow is coming. What a perfect time to share this……
So excited to finally share with you a little drawing I made in late summer or so. It is the cover art crafted for a beautiful collection of pre-twentieth century European Christmas carols, all arranged for fiddle and guitar and performed with such delicate grace by Finn MaGill.
You can obtain this music digitally via the link below during pre-order days for just $7 until Nov. 29:
In a world so mad with the day to day, it is really nice to find a pensive work of music to set the tone. Especially for the holidays. Truly, it’s lovely. Go get it.
In other news, I have been pulling myself up by the bootstraps a bit as I dig back into colder weather and grayer days. I look back at older work to see where newer work might come from. My friend Rima Staines posted online a week or so ago a weeklong set of prompts for “Folk Tale Week” and at the last minute, I decided to play along.
It was good for my mood. Here they are….. (but to read my reasoning behind choosing these particular images for these specific prompts, go to my instagram page.)
It really was fun to re-visit some of my older drawings, and fun to feel inspired to make a couple of new ones as well. New ideas are a funny thing. We need the space and time in which to create them, and in a busy modern world, finding that is a feat in and of itself. But we must also seed new work with perhaps pieces of our own old ideas, or maybe some new things from people and things that inspire us. and so, we strive for balance.
This balance is always up for scrutiny, at least for me. Too much time alone with my own thoughts can be dangerous. Too little, is equally or perhaps more so. But I keep wandering the artful path. Trusting that time spent playing my flute or learning new things on the pipes is time well spent (let’s face it, no money is being made and in this modern age, that can seem like a waste of time!!).
In pipes class the other day we were lamenting the piping path, fraught with peril. And a new idea occurred to me of a series that might happen showcasing a newish piper, a Badger perhaps, clumsily finding his own way along the road to piperhood. And so I may have a new friend. He may look a bit like the fella singing in the album cover above…. John Joe? is that you?
More soon on all of it. In the meantime, treat yourself to the quiet beauty of Finn’s new album. It’s gorgeous. And for once, I am excited to put on Christmas music.
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…..
“I don’t want realism. I want magic.” ~Tennessee Williams
There is much coming and going of late. Hither and thither we work and play. I’ll share a bit here as I set aside remembered things to pack away for upcoming workshops. Antigua beckons…..
Narry a week ago, I was working in my own sketchbook in a warm place called Key West. When I wasn’t strolling the colorful streets filled with colorful people, feasting my eyes on color and light, I was bobbing in a pool or better yet, in the sea herself – buoyed by salt, water and sun.
pay no mind to the chitter chatter in the clip above, we were on a sunset cruise. I was captivated by the murky depths. And miraculously I did not get sea sick.
Key West enchants with its embedded quirk round every corner. Some folk come here to drink their cares away, but I for one came to drink in more than just rum. Though to be fair, rum has its place.
If one but stays just off the beaten path, there is charm at every turn and lovely sunsets to behold. And it can be a balm for the soul of a weary, land-locked midwesterner nearing the end of a long, gray winter…..
We paid homage to the sea and to the rich history of the place, even visiting the home of Ernest Hemingway which boasts 55 polydachtyl cats living their best lives on the property.
There is magic around every turn there.
Too soon we must return home once again to the gloom and gray of Ohio. But we look for the quiet magic to be found here.
My daughter and her boyfriend are home for break and he has some new camera gear he is eager to test. He stunningly captures the magic of our yard in the dark. With his extended exposures, our criss-crossing creeks become fully laden with an Otherworldly quality and I am reminded how lucky we are to have this little patch of land of ours.
Art has a way of reminding us of the beauty in the world. Music as well. This week ahead is the high holy season of Irish music and we are quite busy indeed.
Tuesdays there is always a session here in town, even on ‘normal’ weeks. This Tuesday we are at Streetside Brewery on Eastern Avenue. It’s one of our favorite places to play. Saturday March 16, I join the Roving Rogues to play St. Patrick’s Day eve at Arnold’s Bar, Cincinnati’s oldest tavern. and on Sunday, we once again will play in the evening at Palm Court in the Hilton Netherland Plaza hotel. Come on along and enjoy a fancy cocktail. Escape the green-beer fray, won’t you?
I am so grateful for the music.
And this music as well….
Our Jack was part of a concert celebrating the music of Bach which we attended last night. It was divine and captivating, as Bach can be, and we were swept away on this stormy evening to another world indeed. There is more this evening as well, I can’t recommend it enough.
All is not angelic and ethereal round here however. As I mentioned, I am busily getting last minute things in line for my double workshop endeavor in Antigua, Guatemala. This is keeping me on my toes instead of at the drawing table or in the journal where I belong. I embark on that journey later this month.
But before I go to Guatemala, I am attempting to complete a somewhat hefty hand-made project, which in it’s own earthy way is keeping me grounded in work. That of a 3′ X 4′ latch hook rug project for the annual May The Fourth Star Wars Tribute show.
I’m using a grid to help me keep track of my design on the canvas.
All the yarn I am using for this project is either from my own stash of leftover yarns or has been acquired second hand at Scrap-It-Up over in Pleasant Ridge. This has added some complexity to the rug itself and is helping me to make Chewbacca extra fluffy and scruffy.
My studio assistant Ian takes his job quite seriously.
Until he’s ready to leave the room, at which point he rings the bell to let me know.
Working a bit on this rather ridiculous project each day keeps me grounded and working with my hands which is good for my head ironically enough. And this is good.
And so, the fitting in of all the pieces of this life’s puzzle continues. While I must admit to this being a rough winter in many ways, things are looking up now that the light seems to linger longer in the days, even when it’s snowing. The sun is even shining today as I write this. We must always remember that change is the only constant and we must at least attempt to move forward.
I say this as a reminder to myself really. Behind the scenes here I spend a fair amount of time applying to and being rejected by various opportunities such as with publishers (who often don’t/can’t respond, which feels like throwing work into a great dark abyss…. hello- oh – o – o …….. receiving back only the boniest of echoes) This is all part of the process. I will say, while it does continue to smart, it does get easier the more one applies.
Residencies are yet another application process I find myself often involved in, always looking for some way to go somewhere inspirational, seeking a deeper sense of time and place to make and grow my work. I can’t tell you how many of these opportunities I’ve applied to, heart firmly tied onto the application via the proverbial string, only to be denied for my efforts. I really try to envision myself there when I apply and so I do pour heart and soul into each application.
To those who’ve never thought about these things, one has to remember that merely applying is often a great deal of work – writing essays and statements, gathering photos of work, recommendations, tweaking one’s CV, etc. etc. I fit these efforts into the small spaces between the usual goings on of my day to day. And I just keep trying, allowing a bit of grief and maybe some ice-cream when a particular refusal really gets me down.
But I do keep trying. And sometimes, like throwing spaghetti at the ceiling, something sticks……
I am beyond over the moon to announce that my Maine based friend Julie Persons of Adventures of Claudia and Chicks In Hats fame and myself have been selected to share a month long residency in Ireland next year for the month of October. We are thrilled!!!!
We have put up the party flags and are doing a little happy dance, albeit virtually for now.
I’ll share more about this exciting news as things formulate into firmer plans. But for now it is enough to have the invitation from Olive Stack in lovely Listowel and to know the dates we are to be working there.
So much rich stuff ahead. And the challenges too that we face in this world on a personal level of course, and globally as well. I said to someone the other day that this is the new normal for artists – to be able to hold in our hearts and minds, at the very same time, the dual notions that all will be well, and that things are really wrong too. – This is not an easy task. But I aim to try, as I have for years now. To highlight and showcase beauty, to work for positive change. It’s what the artists I most admire do best.
Baby steps, Micromovements (as this blog has long been named) is how we move things along, how we take the leaps to grow into new opportunities and to try new things that challenge us. It’s terrifying really. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”