We can see it in the light just lately. A goldening behind the lush greens of late summer.
This morning I take the dogs outside. I take note. And return with my camera to capture these fleeting light-moments.
I begin looking closer. The colors beckoning.
Capturing changing light, shifting colors of the mood of a certain season – this is a favorite thing of mine.
Lately I find myself more and more captivated with capturing the mood of a moment, which colors and light it might hold, versus sketching out what things might “actually look like”.
Over the holiday weekend, we found ourselves in Asheville, North Carolina to visit friends, play a few tunes and hike. On one hike we met a family from Guatemala who were keen on Catawba Falls as it reminded them of home.
I painted them into a little color drawing I made of the moment and shared it with them. We talked of Guatemala and how beautiful it is.
My sketch felt more like a painting, which pleases me to no end.
The weekend ended much too soon for my liking but I have taken custody of a wee hand sculpted by Anna Koloseike of Asheville. I am in love with it’s smallness and the form it takes and am still deciding where to mount it.
It’s like the hand of a small maker. Which is how I feel at times.
Today I sketched at the Cincinnati Zoo for awhile with an Urban Sketcher friend, and a few others joined us after the local illustrator’s luncheon. Although I attend these lunches at times, today’s schedule was cut into slices which didn’t allow for lunch out and so I did what I could.
There just never seems to be enough time for all the things. But occasionally a reminder comes along and I breathe a little easier….
I am grateful for this reminder.
At the zoo today I looked for an armadillo but could only find one with three bands and I need the one with 9. (And a banjo. He must have a banjo.) So I will sketch on until the right fella finds himself at the tip of my pencil and I can pin him down to the job at hand.
More on this little project as it unfolds from here…..
In the meantime, I leave you with Asheville impressions.
Asheville dog culture is wonderful.
It was strange to visit Warren Wilson College outside of the scope of the Swannanoa Gathering. All was quiet and peaceful. But the place is lovely in spite of the music being flung to the hills until next summer. I look forward to next year.
“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.”
Ginger Small and I have been playing a bit with stop-motion
It is a blustery day in the Hundred Acre Wood, proverbially speaking. Blessed with a studio day, I seek escape from the confines of my over-working monkeyed mind in the form of writing and perhaps some play with materials on hand. It is important to dance with winter in anyway we can.
Craving coastline and a gentler breeze on this Polar Vortex day, I dip back into collected imagery from a whirlwind trip west not weeks ago, marveling at the light and magic to be found in California.
It blows a frozen, (though thankfully sunny) gale outside my window here, but if I just climb into my imagination a bit more deeply, I can remember what unfrozen air feels like, though it was brisk and cool.
Time with those beloved to us is magic time indeed.
Self doubts, once seemingly frozen into place, thaw. The black dogs of recent depression recede, if only for a couple of days. I realize that as much as I love woolen wear, and hot tea and buttered rum and life in general here in the Ohio River Valley, journeys which afford escape to more temperate climes in winter months keep my wheels on.
I am steeped in gratitude.
Guardians, ghosts and gods are easier to spot near the sea. Sometimes they lean back and bend to the breezes.
As our wanderings take us farther down the coast we meet them more and more often, in many forms.
Through the mists we find them.
Those who light the way and *remind* us. With words, color, hospitality, love.
“To paint is to love again.”
Through mists and moonlight, we come back to our animal selves.
Once returned, we seek not to deep dive back into old familiar patterns of busy-ness and not-so-aliveness, flitting about in our heads like trapped songbirds. Though we do.
I am thankful for reminders.
But wouldn’t you know it, a guardian god did follow us home….
A Maximón of legend, lovingly crafted as a gift for us by Steve Worley who fancies himself *just* a craftsman, though we all know he is an artist to be reckoned with.
For now, Maximón watches over our doings and comings and goings from his perch on our kitchen counter.
But we will one day provide for him a proper altar of sorts, much like the blast of color, taste and smoke to be found in Santiago Atitlan.
More adventures are on the horizon, I can just see them through the bursts of icy snow – shining, beckoning like soul beacons. A small personal getaway with the women in my family before workshop season gets underway in full force. Last minute sign-ups for the Guatemala trip have both weeks *at capacity*.
Just last year I wondered if I could possibly work out two back to back workshops. The work speaks for itself and somehow, here I am now. Not with out much needed help, encouragement, and proofreaders for my dyslexic, prone-to-wander brain.
The California based weekend workshop is officially OPEN. Do send me an email if you are on that lovely Left Coast and care to join us to sketch May 18/19, 2019. You can choose one or both days. Each is different.
Taos, my flagship course is also *at capacity* and I am already dreaming and scheming what to share with my class this year. Again, I marvel. And I am not without what every single successful person I know of deals with…. a (not-so) healthy dose of imposter syndrome. Yes, there it is. The beast in the room.
But the advice to *think less, breathe more* (I think these words set to music from Hamilton) is good advice. And also, to just make work. Surely this will calm the beast a bit, yes. Especially certain types of beasts…
I have embarked on a project with a fairly tight deadline for the annual May the Fourth show.
Like many beasts, he is large, imposing, but once you get to know him, he softens up and becomes an exercise in mindfulness.
Stitch, by stitch. Hook by hook.
I shall breathe more, think less. (And watch a bit of Netflix along the way I am sure.) while the beasts in the room get as close as they can to the space heater.
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!
Solstice dawns bright and beautiful. I head outside with a hot cup of coffee and three eager dogs and marvel at the pink light on a lovely sycamore across the creek from us. I snap a little photo with the ever present phone, as you do in this day and age.
Just after capturing the image, I hear crows calling and they fly into the frame with the same sycamore and I think that would have been a nice photo as well, but I merely stand and watch them fly and listen to a snippet of their airborne conversings amongst one another.
The dogs snuffle around on the ground, surely on the trail of deer, fox or coyote who wander in the night.
After a bit I am chilled (and so is my coffee) so we head inside. I check the usual electra-outlets of things and am thankful for a well curated online sphere. There will be news when I decide to take on the days’ burnings, but for this morning, which is Solstice, I opt to seek beauty for a bit. To sift my intake through the lens of loveliness.
The Splendid Table did a piece a while ago on the country of Georgia and it’s culinary traditions. They discussed which foods would be presented, and how they might be served (in lots of lovely small dishes), and that often, between courses, those at table might take to singing. This morning I am once again reminded of Georgian singing via a post by a musical acquaintance. And now, thanks to him, these lovely singers are in my ears as I ponder the still point in the turning of the world. Somehow these minored harmonies are a fitting soundtrack to the day.
We must be so very careful what we feed ourselves just now. There is so much work to be done in the world. On some days, the prospect of shifting the huge paradigms which must be shifted if we are to survive, seems insurmountable. Music, powerful art, the magic of poetry all serve to shore us up and supplement our souls during these dark days. Nourishment.
I’m grateful for the gatherers of words who keep me nourished online. Here are just a couple of examples…..
Shapechangers in Winter (excerpt)
This is the solstice, the still point
of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath, the door
of a vanished house left ajar.
Taking hands like children
lost in a six-dimensional
forest, we step across.
The walls of the house fold themselves down,
and the house turns
itself inside out, as a tulip does
in its last full-blown moment, and our candle
flares up and goes out, and the only common
sense that remains to us is touch,
as it will be, later, some other
century, when we will seem to each other
even less what we were.
But that trick is just to hold on
through all appearances; and so we do,
and yes, I know it’s you;
and that is what we will come to, sooner
or later, when it’s even darker
than it is now, when the snow is colder,
when it’s darkest and coldest
and candles are no longer any use to us
and the visibility is zero: Yes.
It’s still you. It’s still you.
I am grateful for my fellow image makers who sprinkle their visual magic around like a healing fairy-dust of sorts.
This past year has been a tumultuous one for much of the world. I find myself in somewhat of a dystopic frame of mind and have had to work quite hard to remain above the fray psychologically. (thank you yoga and the well worn running paths of this here village.)
I wonder, how can I better be of service? How can things change, in part by the actions of small players like myself in the great theater of the world, when our leaders collectively seem hell bent on a path to destruction on the backs of the vulnerable?
I find myself questioning the very systems I once believed undeniable. (I’m looking at you Capitalism.) How can we operate in this world more lightly, how can we exchange work and energy and our livelihoods in a more just way? There are many forging a new path and I find myself becoming a part of that conversation. I choose bartering when I can to the notion of cold hard cash. I read and listen to the words of fellow artisans and writers asking the same hard questions such as Amanda Palmer, Eloïse Sentito, and Ayana Young. All the while, holding on tight to the tail of my work, even when it can feel a bit senseless at times.
It is the season of Christmas parties. At our local illustrators gathering, a few of us talked of how the very act of making books for children is a political one. We tuck the seeds of kindness and compassion in-between the lines and in the imagery of work for children, be that picture books, traditional fairy tales or puppetry. Crafting beauty for the next generation feels like a radical thing indeed these days. Perhaps they will rise up and be the leaders we need. Kind. Compassionate.
My beloved day-job fellows at Carroll Concertinas gathered for dinner last night and talked of the past year’s work. On average, we produce 24 handcrafted, high end concertinas each year. We make all of the parts ourselves and piece them together into these amazing instruments. Our boss and dear friend Wally commended us on our craftsmanship and acknowledged the many other gifts and skills we bring to the table collectively as artists and musicians and fellow human beings. In a some small way, to do this kind of work, at this intimate level, is also a somewhat radical notion. I do not take the gift of this lightly and am deeply grateful. Would that everyone in the world has work which challenges them and makes them happy and compensates them deeply on many levels. That is a world I can wrap my weary brain around.
These are my ponderings on this day, the Solstice, the very time when we catch our breath as the world turns back toward the light. May this metaphor come to pass in the coming months. May we all have the courage to follow the light home to ourselves and to each other. May the mere act of following this light be seen for the very brave thing it is.
Life’s pendulum slowly begins to swing back to a quieter state. Only a smattering of art-related events left to attend to and soon the art work will come home to roost once again where it belongs. Well, most of it. Some small things have sold and will be finding their way to forever homes which feels like an accomplishment of sorts.
Last night, upon returning home myself from an evening of sharing a few tunes with my musical mates, the headlamps of my car alight upon a great buck who has come to pay us a visit. He is regal and quite stately, taking his time crossing the little bridge over our creek.
Today I look for evidence of his brief visit, as he is quite magical and a brain entranced by hours of music can often see things which are not of this world.
I find the evidence in what is left of our recent snow fall, a track across the bridge where my dogs stop to have a sniff of this wild creature’s path.
Playing around with ‘watercolor graphite’ I attempt to draw the buck.
In my drawing he is bulky and strange, but I find myself excited to use this medium which I purchased awhile back and have not yet used much.
Rustiness seems to be the name of the game lately as I have been presenting and exhibiting, showing and teaching, meeting and greeting. A dear friend of mine remarked at my last opening that he could see why I am not a fan of art openings in general (even the fun ones!) because it’s as if ‘you were just getting swallowed by people’. Which feels true.
I am eager to get back to the magic of making.
I have recommitted with a vengeance to the act of daily sketching and outings with our newly sanctioned Urban Sketchers of Cincinnati group are just the ticket to get the pen moving across the page once more.
Though it’s painfully crowded, I manage a warm up sketch at first.
And then a bit later, settle into a quieter place, with a more fantastical little structure to draw.
The rusty drawing skills begin to come to life and I feel the gears slowing down in my bones with pen to paper. It is strangely familiar and I am grateful for years of practice which don’t ever truly leave me.
I finish the sketch at home later that evening with a bit of color.
Our Urban Sketchers group is open to anyone who wants to get out and draw so do join us if you are in the area. I promise we are quite friendly and do not bite unless provoked.
This is a indeed a magical time of year. With the Solstice nearly upon us, in theory we begin to witness a return of light, though the world seems very dark indeed just now. To combat this darkness, we must make magic in our own way.
Over in the land of Twitter, writers Julia Bird and Robert MacFarlane have cooked up a plan for the internet to co-read the novel The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. We begin December 20th, the very same day the story begins, and I am excited to be a part of it. Reading a beautiful classic is a balm in these dire times.
I am inspired by dear friends who have been making magic in the world in very special ways. The first, someone I hike and paddle with, has a job in the world of retail where she knows how to line up deals and coupons to make things quite affordable. She uses this super-power to purchase new coats for those in need to donate to the coat drive at a local charity. This is especially wonderful for the rough and tumble little boys who are so very hard on their coats and therefore gently used coats are few and far-between. I marvel at her spirit of generosity and urge others good at shopping in the world to consider doing something similar.
Another friend has been crafting and conjuring magic in his own way and a few of us closest to him have been presented with a wondrous gift indeed.
A wand. I have other wands. Those with paint-brush tips. But this is a whole new animal indeed. It is a branch of elm, sanded and shaped and bedecked with a gorgeous calligraphy nib for writing and drawing….
It makes lines like a dream. At the other end of this wonderful wand is a little reminder of where my heart lies…
I am truly blessed to know people who play music, make art, walk ever so gently in this world. I aim to be one of them.
Meanwhile, unbelievably (inconceivable?)
It has been 10 years of making magic here in this little online world of mine.
“Creativity is really the structuring of Magic.”
~ anne kent rush
This anniversary time feels momentous. Seismic in its shifting of my work and my thinking and life in general. I look back on the woman who started this blog ten years ago and I know that I have grown and changed.
Around the same time as this blog was getting going, I got my very first tattoo. A moth, rooted. That tattoo has served me well for many years and the symbolism still resonates with me to this day. That said, it had faded a bit and had grown a little tired. When my daughter (now about to turn 21 which here in this country means one is a fully fledged adult) suggests we get tattoos together, I decide to use this opportunity to reinvest in the moth design.
Her idea is to get ferns, each in our own way, to our own liking. Ferns are all about unfurling into one’s true majesty, which I think we both are doing just now as human beings.
She knew right away what she wanted and so, she goes first.
Simple, graphic, hipster. Very her. We both love it.
A few weeks on I come to the idea of reworking my moth and proceed to Flying Tiger Tattoo where my friend and fellow artist Megan Butler works. She comes up with a way to reinvigorate my beloved luna moth, while incorporating the ferns. She also nurtures the root ball of the design, adding in mushrooms to aid this forest inspired work of art, brightening and delineating the roots, giving them room to breathe. I simply could not be happier with it.
It is earthy, bright and beautiful. Colorful and confident. No longer fading. It is more cohesive than the original, more well thought out. It may yet be added to. It is a rich environment for new growth to occur.
All of these things feel applicable to myself just now. Which as I look back on this time last year, fills me with a relief I cherish. This season finds me filled with so much less anxiety and depression, having worked exceptionally hard to shift back into a yoga routine, once again going back to eating vegetarian. Self care and overall health are great gifts indeed. They add to the magic making, at least around here.
And speaking of magic, here are a few more tidbits to share.
Magic in the littlest moments. Noticing. Placing attention on these things….
One of my all time favorite characters in any book is Tiffany Aching. She is a young witch, who is, among other things, “good with cheese.” I like to think she’d be rather proud of my first foray into making cheese. This time, a simple paneer.
And lastly, I leave you with my efforts from the month of October. At the last minute, I opted to take part in “inktober”, putting together an alphabet of creatures as a way to get to know my new fountain pen. It was great fun and I hope to have sets of post cards to share with you in time for the holidays. Prints of individual animals are also available.
*special thanks to my dear and wonderful friend who has allowed me to use her music in my videos over the years. Kim Taylor, you are the very vision of friendship. I love you.
Not two full days home from my blissful week of music in Swannanoa and I find myself flying east to my soul’s home in Maine to visit friends of auld. These are friends who have known me longer than they haven’t, and I am blessed beyond the stars to have them in my life still. As a family we are fragmented this year for what is usually our time of solidarity. But this is how it is to be. One must follow his heart home for recovery after a Big Summer of Big Work; another, I have secretly purchased a two day ticket up to join us for just a moment or two and fingers crossed it all works out as planned (it does). And lastly, our anchor in all things fun, my hub Tony, does his best to come along for just a few days. He is successful and we pack a lot into a couple of days time off.
We spend as much time as possible by the sea or in the sea. Ferrying to our favorite places….
….eating oceanic gifts of the odd lobster or oyster; swimming, beach-combing the ever interesting, ever-changing wrack-line.
To me this is paradise and I collect a few little tid-bits to drag home to paint.
The coastline sets my heart all aflutter – all I want to do is paint. And yet I am restless and frustrated in a way I cannot name – torn between time with those I love and miss all year long, and my desire to make stuff. I also find myself really missing the music I have only just the week prior been steeped in, more so than in other years. Perhaps the music is sinking deeper into the pores after all?
Eventually, the paints do come out. But it takes time.
And keen observation. But the art does come. It starts slowly.
In between boat-trips and cock-tailed laughter, oysters and teenaged catch-ups, we take some time to drive round the old haunts of our early days all together -when there was Peace in the land but our boys did their military duties, deploying too often for our liking, even when babies were due. These are the things that can seal friendships for life.
In spite of hard winters and time apart, we remember our days in Maine with rich fondness. It is one reason we come back each summer.
Chapter 2. – to the lake side
Soon our seaside time was at an end and we were headed inland to a lovely lake house we’ve taken to commissioning for a week each summer. It feels like home, all the while we discuss going full on ocean-time.
We are torn. We love this place.
We love it’s moody skies and ever-changing weather patterning.
And the sunset views, which never disappoint, even on rainier evenings.
Chapter 3 – romancing the stone
Before my family leaves, we take a little kayak jaunt across Long Pond to Beaver Brook where I am captivated by a stone divided into three parts by ancient ice and time and other such forces. I vow to go back to sketch the place, as I have come with nothing but a hat and a paddle.
Soon enough, though surrounded with dear friends, I am left as the only Bogard on vacation which is a strange sensation. Tony has been dubbed the Julie McCoy of the group, always corralling us all to gaming and cocktailing, water-sport contesting and the like and things are really, really quiet with-out him around. This all plucks and strums strings of empty-nesting woes I don’t even think I was aware of until now.
I play it all out in the boat house on my flute.
I make it back over to the little cove where the Beaver Brook runs and the captivating stone resides. I marvel at the language of light and shadow which I can barely translate.
I believe there is something here to translate.
And so I ask the stone to help me.
It’s a start.
I am not one for series usually, but I am called to paint and have been looking for a form I could play with, from painting to painting. Not just the one-and-done sketch I usually go in for. This stone is just the ticket and I am enjoying exploring it’s complexities. There will be more, especially once I am home near the oils. I have traveled lightly this trip.
Chapter 4 – critters large and small
One day I go for a run across the way on the Mountain Road. A place I return to every year for it’s lake views through the trees, its lack of proximity to cars and traffic noise in general. Along the road I find a sweet feather which is eventually identified as a low wing feather of a wild turkey after much back and forth discussion and postulation both online and with my compatriots back at the camp. I even meet a lovely older gentleman along the road who thinks it could be eagle, though my guess is owl. I am not disappointed with turkey, as they are wonderous to behold in the wild.
I set out to sketch this lovely gift before I must leave it behind here where I found it. Sometimes I keep feathers, but this one shall stay.
I appreciate it getting my paint brush filled and setting me to painting, as it comes to me before the stone paintings begin.
This day’s run is truly fruitful as I also spy some horses through the edges of the woods and I stop to capture them with my phone-camera (the only camera I brought this year as I am traveling light. Still not sure about this decision.)
The horses pay me no mind and I think about the wild ponies some artists I follow online are fortunate enough to have in their lives as they go about their daily wanderings. I wonder what I need to do to have more woodland walking right outside my door, more ponies to spy on through the edges of the hedges. This is a constant wondering, as always.
Most times we wander down to the water from our little house here, we are treated to the antics of a local loon family who have some still young but near adult fledglings along with them. I borrow Amy’s proper camera with a decent telephoto lens to capture them up close for this post.
They are absolutely captivating as they call to one another, throughout the days and nights. This is the soundtrack to my dreaming and I am glad of it.
I am indeed glad of dreaming in general as there has been some wakefulness in the household in recent days. A wee mouse has gotten a bit too friendly, joining my friends in bed night before last, which gave them a start indeed. Last night, as lights are out, I hear a rustling and sure enough, wee mouse (we hope it’s the same) is in a paper bag into which I have stashed my knitting and a few varieties of tea I like to bring on my travels. This leads me to believe he is a country mouse indeed (I mean, tea and knitting, come on.) and he is escorted out of doors by our brave knight in PJ’d armor. No harm no foul, but we hope the lil thing stays outside for the remainder of our time here. I calm my late night nerves with a bit of bourbon and sleep fitfully from there.
Chapter 4 – where to from here
I write this missive in present tense, a style I see on occasion over at one of my favorite follows, These Isles. I have no idea if it works or not for others, but for me, today, right now, it works. This writing style allows me to step outside of a linear path of ‘what happened when’ and to step into the concept of the Traveling Now. The Traveling Now is not unfamiliar to quantum theorists, though this name for it is from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I find more and more that the order of things matters not. What matters is that we are present in it. Now.
On what might be the calmest evening left in the week, I wander alone down to the waterside for a quick swim in the moonlight alone under the stars. If you’ve never skinny-dipped for whatever reason is holding you back, it is something I hope you do at some point in your life time.
I arrive back up stairs, sobered and refreshed (pre-country mouse adventure) and I find this by John O’Donohue (one of my all time favorite go-to writers):
THE CALL TO LIVE EVERYTHING
One of the sad things today is that so many people are frightened by the wonder of their own presence. They are dying to tie themselves into a system, a role, or to an image, or to a predetermined identity that other people have actually settled on for them. This identity may be totally at variance with the wild energies that are rising inside in their souls. Many of us get very afraid and we eventually compromise. We settle for something that is safe, rather than engaging the danger and the wildness that is in our own hearts. We should never forget that death is waiting for us. A man in Connemara said one time to a friend of mine, ‘Beidh muid sínte siar,’ a duirt sé, ‘cúig mhilliúin blain déag faoin chré’ – We’ll be lying down in the earth for about fifteen million years, and we have a short exposure. I feel that when you recognize that death is on its way, it is a great liberation, because it means that you can in some way feel the call to live everything that is within you. One of the greatest sins is the unlived life, not to allow yourself to become chief executive of the project you call your life, to have a reverence always for the immensity that is inside of you.
I like to think that even something as simple as going to the lake side for a moonlight swim in nothing but my birthday suit is one small way to ‘live everything’.
Tomorrow we leave this place. As we do, we know nothing of the year to come. The third of the four kids who do this magical week with us each year (our two went first, now theirs) is off to college in just a matter of weeks. I do not know what the end of summer into fall-winter and beyond hold. I have some ideas of things I’d like to set into motion, which I will do. But for now, I read things that make my head and heart spin on its very axis, I make plans for an upcoming show that has me thrilled and terrified in equal measure. I continue to answer the (also terrifying though I do not know why) irresistible call to paint in ways I have not yet done. I show up.
This summer has been a gift beyond imagining and I am grateful for it. Each year I grow and make and play in the hopes I can bring that home to my friends and family and to my students along the way. It is a gift, and I do not take it lightly.
I write this to you from my soul-home in Maine where I can smell the ocean on the air upon wakening. I await those in my little family who can make it up here for even a day or two in the coming weeks and miss those not joining us this year. But while I fully sink into life back here where it feels so very familiar, I’ll admit that part of my heart is still under the enchantment of a week of music, magic and mayhem that is the Swannanoa Gathering. You will know that in year’s past there were much shenanigans (and one year even a wedding!!) amidst the musical goings on. This year, it seems that while we had an immense amount of belly laughter and all around craic, the music itself took front and center.
The trip down to Swannanoa this year began, blanketed by a low hum in my heart- consisting of worries Big and small, varying in proximity to me personally. Some closer to home, some via merely a glance at any news, at any time. It seems that the world-at-large continues to fly a bit close to the sun, cosmically speaking, and I don’t feel like I am the only one sensing it. Everyone I know seems to be feeling chaotic and a bit frenetic. These summers of mine, so gypsy-like from the outside-looking-in, are my way of assimilating the year past, and of lighting a way forward as the arc of each year moves on into the darker months ahead, to fall and winter. They are a necessary re-set button and I am glad of it.
My week of workshops in North Carolina last week (was it really just last week?) began Monday morning with classes with the fabulous flute-player and singer, Nuala Kennedy. You might remember her from her beautiful Behave the Bravest, for which I made the album art.
It was so wonderful to be sitting back again in music class learning a few new tunes. I have let my Riley School doings fall aside of late as I work to build my art and workshop-offering practice and I have missed it dearly. Nuala always teaches interesting tunes that strum the heart’s harp-strings and this year was no different. The first three tunes we learned – a march, a strathspey and a reel were all in the key of B minor.
Now I am no musical theory geek but I know enough to know that the minorish keys tend to be a bit more moody and pensive. For me at least, this key fit the mood of the early part of the week and we gobbled the beauty of them up in class and in our flutilla-led rehearsal time which we kept each day between classes, open to any of our classmates who could make it. It is here we made some new friends, which is a bonus each year.
Some days in Nuala’s class we had a special guest, for whom we played a gentle version of our March.
…or who graciously took our class photo.
Between classes we practiced more, occasionally napped or snuck in a shower- as camp life can make for late nights and sweaty days. And by afternoons we found ourselves in the presence of the one and only Kevin Crawford who keeps us on our toes and usually laughing a good bit too throughout the week.
Kevin hears every note. Good or bad. Especially if he sits right down in front of you….
And as if the flute weren’t difficult enough, he’s taken to trading instruments with his bandmate Colin Farrell and playing a jig now and again just to get a laugh from his class. If you are not a musician, you might not realize how hard this is. These guys make it look simple.
The week wore on and little by little, the key of things changed a bit. We came fully under the spell of music and the people who make it and there were moments of magic to behold along the way.
One evening a few of the staff snuck away to one of my favorite corners in which to play, the Kittredge breezeway, and had a bit of a session. Here is just a snippet….
It’s amazing when this happens. The staff at Swannanoa give their all to this week between teaching and hosting other goings-on, but much like us, sometimes they might simply want to run off and have a tune with old friends. Sometimes these are situations we students might join in if invited, other times, it’s nice to just sit back and listen awhile. And so I did.
This little session was a perfect blend of tunes and song. All of these artists listening to one another along the way.
There was even a bit of step dancing by dance instructor Siobhan Butler to add to the magic of the evening.
Our week at Swannie always seems to fly by but this year it seemed exceptionally quick-paced. One day it was Monday with the whole week ahead of us, then suddenly, just like that, it was Friday. But as I look back, there were at least a few shenanigans along the way….
There was a ceili to attend on Tuesday.
And I was sure to catch up with my new flute friend Julie so we could snap a picture of our matching flutilla swag!!
There were late night sessions with loved ones from near and far, and we enjoyed music and many many laughs.
By day the skies might open and deliver thunderous rains on occasion, but always the clouds parted, and the sun did shine once more, as it goes in these misty mountains.
Each day we packed in as much music as we could, learning from our teachers. It was fun to approach tunes we may have heard on recordings and to listen to the nuanced differences in how each player approaches each tune along the way. The goal is, after all, to take this music into our hearts and make it our own somehow.
Many evenings saw us attending concerts where we could watch our instructors do what they do best, which is perform. These folks are the best at what they do and it’s a true treat to hear them live. Especially when they gather together and make music perhaps never heard before.
When our days weren’t too full, and we weren’t too tired, we attended what are called ‘pot-lucks’ where some of the staff shared a topic of their choosing for an hour or so. I attended one by Cathy Jordan called The Happy Subject of Death. She and some of her fellow instructors sang murder ballads and other dark songs and there were many tears and a good bit of macabre laughter as well. This all felt in keeping with the minor key of the week for me and I loved it. I also attended a chat by Martin Hayes, sometimes referred to as the Buddha of Irish music. We talked about why we play music. Some folks look to perform perhaps, others might just want to play along with a recording by themselves or sit in the kitchen over a cuppa having tunes with friends. There is no wrong way. But the biggest goal for him, and I must say, for me, is to play with real Joy.
I read this week somewhere that on CNN, someone was quoted as saying,
“Joy is active resistance.”
I believe this to be true and I am holding on to it with all my strength and fortitude. What else do we have? It is this joy in the making – of music, of art, of laughter – which gives us the strength to do the hard things along the way in this crazy world. At least this is how I feel.
As I have stated, Friday came along on the heels of Monday far too quickly for our liking, and suddenly we were rehearsing for the student showcase. The showcase is a fun evening where we get to play a few new tunes together as a class to our fellow ‘gatherers’ and to hear the work of the other classes as well.
It was a steamy, North Carolina style evening and though we were all feeling sticky, we gathered down at the pavilion for the showcase. The photos that follow are some captures by photographer Tom Crockett who’s brother Tim was in class with us. He hiked and took pictures out in the mountains most of the week but attended the showcase on Friday and snapped a few photos of the Flutilla. I share them here with you by permission.
(Thank you so much Tom for the gorgeous photos! They are truly treasured.)
And now here we are. Back in Maine once again, soaking up a bit of the seaside and lake time which we will draw upon time and again in the year ahead. These weeks of art and music, friendship and fellowship, always set me to thinking about things in a deep way. They remind me to practice what makes my heart sing. To play my flute, no matter how clumsy it might feel when not backed up by my flutilla. To push a paint brush around even when I don’t know where it’s going.
To remember to head out into nature more often, as She is the real conductor of things.
And most importantly, to trust my inner knowing along the way. A lesson I am trying so hard to take more and more on board.
If you are reading this and attended the Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week, do leave a comment with your favorite moment(s) of the week. I’d love to read them!