~Irish saying that translates literally as “People live in each other’s shadows.” (via @nualamusic)
Today is the 30th of September, and the facet of my heart that shines brightest in New Mexico sunlight beats in time with those of my soul family there as they celebrate the Feast of San Geronimo.
This celebration is sacred to my friends, and we don’t talk much about the meaning of it all. Rather we bask in the company of one another, we celebrate a successful harvest with food and community and we encourage the Lady of the Mountain to don the golden colors of autumn.
There is talk of Shadows when the Koshares appear to wreak a bit of havoc, which adds to the festival atmosphere.
It is a day to sit in communion with the land and the mountains and the folks who live on and with it. Today I send a lot of love out into the cosmos, especially to my beloved Land of Enchantment.
At the beginning of this month, I alerted a few eager early birds that I was about to embark on registration for the Taos 2020 Travel Sketch class at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s. Then just last week I opened up registration to anyone interested. After a flurry-filled week of inquiries and emails, text messages and notes back and forth with old and new participants alike, I am pleased to say, the workshop is sold out!! This is the earliest this phenomenon has ever occurred and I am thrilled. Thrilled that this work speaks to so many, thrilled to be heading back to Taos next summer with a full roster of fellow artists – both seasoned and newly learning their craft.
I am simply over the moon!!
June 2020 is in some ways, quite far off, but it comes around faster than one might expect and I’ll be ready with exciting new things to try in our sketchbooks by then. I am already looking forward. If you missed the call for this workshop, you still have some options. First, reach out to me and get on the waiting list. Plans can sometimes change for people unexpectedly which occasionally might open up a slot for someone else. I am contemplating adding a slot or two extra but need to contemplate this and talk it over with my trusted advisors and the team at Mabel’s. Those on the wait list would be the first to know if anything opens up for any reason.
You can also join me in Guatemala in early spring. Details on dates and costs can be found here. I have limited space in each of the two weeks being offered there and I believe it is only a matter of time before this trip too is sold out. Antigua, Guatemala is a gorgeous, quite cosmopolitan city which carries color and beauty and an ancient magic all its own. It is the perfect way to warm up during the depths of winter! So consider this option perhaps.
Other teaching outings are in the works for California next spring, generally the Bay Area and environs, so if you are local to there, reach out to me and I’ll put you on that mailing list. Right now we are looking at the first weekend in May and possibly some other dates around that time and in that general vicinity to make it that much more worth a trip to the Left Coast.
And so now, I get back to the making of things. Back to tending the craft that allows me to teach these workshops in the first place. I can smell an autumnal journey on the winds about which I am very excited. I’ll be sure and write from the road.
As always, consider getting on the mailing list to get all of the latest news from here. Social media can be a lot of fun but those pesky algorithms do keep us hustling to get the work into the world.
“The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark. The small truth has words which are clear; the great truth has great silence.” ~Rabindranath Tagore
To arrive at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico is to step over a barrier of sorts. Time and space are steeped in a special fluidity here which makes them more malleable than elsewhere. Every year my goal as a workshop facilitator is to pack as much practical ‘how-to’ into a week devoted to the travel-sketch-journal process, whilst also making way for more ethereal notions such as magic, friendship and community. For opening up to what we each have to offer the world. For finding our own visual voices.
“Every one of us should risk living in the full flow of our own originality. And never to compare yourself with anyone outside you but to trust that inner voice that is speaking to you and whispering to you from the well of great possibility that lives inside you.” ~John O’Donohue
This year is my ninth year working in Taos in this capacity. Over the years I have come to trust that while each season will be new in many ways, we can trust that we will be embraced by a familiarity to sink into which makes space for the best work. I like to think of our travel journals, as well as our classroom space, as vessels to be filled during our week together. My job is merely to hold the space, to hand out bite sized demonstrations and then steward each participant along their own journey. In spite of two last minute cancellations (alas, too last-minute to offer their spaces up even the most last-minute takers) I had a relatively packed house. These numbers bring an energy to the room and to the work we do, and yet there was a lovely intimacy within this group straight away.
We went from an empty vessel….
……to the buzz of a room of artists happily working along together.
Some dear friends from Taos Pueblo visited us on our first day together to share their process of crafting beautiful pottery with mere land, water, time and fire. This was a new idea for this year and I wasn’t sure how I might fold it into an already full teaching agenda, but everyone was quite pleased with the experience (if not the eventual results from the firing).
Time spent pinching pots, forming beads and wee fetishes was time learning about this place we found ourselves – Taos.
It was wonderful to get our hands dirty with the very land itself.
Working with the clay deepened our journaling work indeed…..
We talked of color and form. We worked on studying ellipses (hint: they aren’t hotdogs or footballs.)
Some participants went so far as to use bits of spare wet clay as a painting pigment.
We allowed our wee works to dry through the week. Some cracked, all shrank a bit, but by week’s end, things were dry enough to attempt trial by fire.
Alas, the wind kicked up on firing night and our little works had to eventually be fired on our final morning by our friends out on the Pueblo. In the end, only a few things survived unscathed and most of us went home with mere shards of our work.
For a variety of reasons, I am still glad we spent the time to play with the clay. For one thing, I think everyone came away with a deep reverence for the professional pots made by native hands from native land. Their pots are deceptively simple – until one has attempted to create one, that is! It is a good thing to know how difficult some work is. We can then appreciate it all the more, yes? We all also enjoyed getting our hands dirty and using the clay as pigment. As my workshop is about capturing the spirit of a place, and our experiences in that place, this mini afternoon workshop-within-a-workshop was worth the investment for the beautiful drawings that came out of it.
But of course, there was more to be captured. There were mornings with the buffalo where we gathered before dawn in small groups to visit the herd we’ve come to know so well. I never know year to year if this is something we will get to do again, and so every year I am deeply grateful to spend time with these ancient and wild beasts. Many lovely drawings were made of the magnificent buffalo, but I was firmly planted in teaching mode and so didn’t manage to get a snapshot of these works.
We talked of how to capture light.
Especially, when we find it in darkness….
We took much time to study the colors found in New Mexico such as rust and turquoise, and the complexity of cloud forms.
We doodled ‘carrot people’ from afar and each other closer to hand.
We attempted the challenging yet forever whimsical birdhouses in Mabel’s courtyard…..
“Our pigeons live in a Mexican village reared high up on thick, long posts. I love the expression of their frame houses, that have been added to by José for years. They lean strangely in all directions, and look like a settled community.
… One has to pick one’s way among them on the flagstones from the house to the gates. They feel they own the place and I guess they do. We never let cars drive in beside the portal any more as they used to do because the pigeons wouldn’t move away fast enough and they were always being run over. Finally I put a sign on the gates and locked them. It said, ‘Please don’t drive in. The pigeons don’t like it.'”
~Mabel Dodge Luhan
We worked and we worked and we worked.
We also spent time outside of class at the Pueblo watching the light dance as it does.
Sometimes I see things that give me some indication of what Georgia O’Keeffe may have been after in her paintings….
All too soon our week together was coming to an end. As one person put it, the days seemed spacious and extensive and long in the best way possible, and yet the week as a whole simply flew past us.
We had a final farewell dinner in Mabel’s iconic dining room.
We presented the amazing kitchen staff with a gift of our own making, being so grateful for their hard work keeping us fed and watered all week.
That evening we signed each other’s books, “yearbook” style, and visited together. Some even worked a bit more in our beloved Juniper house classroom! I took “The Vans” outside for a photo shoot, just for fun. It’s my hope that even more folks will carry their sketch supplies around in vans like these in future…..
It is nigh on impossible to capture this week in a blog post. I look back over the years of posts about this trip and I marvel at the layers of meaning and experience I have managed to convey each time – of the changes that have shifted into place over time. The kinship of place I feel toward Taos is complex. In one way, I always feel as if I am coming home. As one friend back here in Ohio (though who travels to Mabel’s on occasion) recently stated, “It’s Mabel. Everything will be fine. Pulling up in the parking lot always brings me to my knees. ” I agree with her.
Friends always ask me, if you love it so much there, why don’t you guys just move? I haven’t yet felt that call, but every time in Taos is harder to leave behind, to be sure. The town upped its game further this year with my introduction to a special breed of sheep called Churro. One of the workshop participants is a shepherdess and has been renting a small place on the outskirts of town which just happens to have a small herd of these amazing animals. After the workshop, Rosemary, Steve and I visited our new friend on her little farm and got to meet the sheep, the farmer who is their steward in this world, and to marvel at how the hidden depths of Taos seem to have no end. I could not stop staring at these sheep.
Those of you who know me, know I adore all things sheep. I have even joked that one day perhaps I’ll be like Beatrix Potter. I’ll publish and sell a bunch of books, and then retire to a sheep farm. One never knows…..
In any case, next year, 2020, marks a nearly decade of this work finding its way in Taos. I feel it may be a special year indeed. (Though to be fair, every year is a gift of it’s own.) I will be offering up pre-registration to this year’s workshop participants first and then to a broader audience after that. This will happen in the first week of September when summer’s travels are through and I begin to set sights on next year. I have a feeling that #TaosSketch2020 may fill fast, so keep your eyes peeled around that time for announcements. For now though, I will unpack here and rest up for what the rest of summer has to offer.
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!
Difficult to believe that at this time just last week, we found ourselves in the magical, mist-ical lands of coastal California -my hub just barely cracking through his shell of over-work, only to have to dive straight back in again. But it was good to see a glimpse of himself to be sure. I am hopeful he could be coaxed back to this real life once again soon.
It is always a strange thing to return back to our regular doings back here at home in Ohio. For me, the mark of Good Travel is that it makes for a yearning and a churning of the soul, a fire in the mind, which keeps us asking questions of ourselves about how we are living this One Wild and Precious Lifeof ours. While we balance chores and responsibilities, work and dreams of what can be, time marches on ever faster. We must make sure we are on the right track. Travel and all the soul-nudging it brings with it, is one sure way to track our proper path isn’t it?
Yesterday my daughter sent along a new song to add to a running playlist I get going each year which tends to set the tone for the up and coming Taos sketch trip. This annual trek to the high desert is a flagship workshop for me as an instructor/facilitator. And the yearly playlist often carries a loose theme through the songs which happens strangely and organically. One year it was about light, especially Golden light, as I found myself craving the sparkling quality of light that is found in places such as northern New Mexico. Yet another year the loose theme seemed to be aboutthe heart of the matter – on finding ones heart beating below the surface of all that is thrust upon us in the drudgery of the day to day.
On a whim, I sent along this new song to a dear musical friend of mine, also the parent of a young adult daughter, knowing the both of them might appreciate it. He asked how I found myself relating to this new song and it got me thinking about my playlists in general and how I use and relate to them. About why I gather songs and how they capture a moment in time. Like the old mix-tapes we might have traded around in our teens, these playlists relay a certain kind of longing. Today’s longing is a more complex, multifaceted thing than my middle school obsessions. Now, I find myself pining for wilder places versus people, be it a sea of salt-water or a sea of sage. I suppose my yearly playlists are a listing of love songs to landscapes that are out of reach to me in my daily life.
“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” ~Terry Tempest Williams
Once upon a time, I dreamed of being a scientist. I love all animals and could spend hours upon hours in observance and wonder of them. Alas, I do not have the mind of a proper scientist which remembers long and (to me) complicated names and specific facts and figures, and so my observance skills took a different path to that of artist. Now, my very favorite thing is to go to a wild place and watch, and draw, and wonder. Just a different kind of scientist really.
We had the great fortune to obtain access to a beach near Santa Cruz which the majestic elephant seals come home to for a season each year to go about the Business of Life. Here they mate, struggle for territory and status, give birth, nurture and nurse, grow and learn, rest and recuperate. We were fortunate to have a patient guide on our tour who allowed us to tarry a bit longer than other groups so as to take it all in properly.
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” ~Aristotle
And amidst all of this marvelous wildness, we had also the comfort of dear friends who welcome us to this wild land with open arms. In the evenings there was a warm fire in the hearth and plenty of tea and long over-due conversation.
The ocean and it’s splendor was a indeed big player in our whirlwind trip west. I had a run on the beach one morning and we sketched the waves. I was captivated by the variety of dogs to be found having their daily walks along the shore.
We also took part of a day to meander down the coast and visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium where we watched, entranced, the displays of Jellyfish and other watery wonders.
“Jellyfish: The sea offers up flowers of glass like thick light. They are transparent landscapes.” ~Raquel Jodorowsky
I was reminded of some old work of mine with the jellies, and vowed to come home and make more.
“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” ~Loren Eiseley
“…the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonders forever.” ~Jacques-Yves Cousteau
But the trip was not all ocean all the time. I was invited to an Irish music session at a local home of a friend of a friend of a friend, which is how it works in musical circles, and was welcomed with open arms to share a few tunes.
Welcomed with open arms is also how we felt in the Redwoods just minutes inland from the sea.
To walk and wander in a forest of these trees is to experience the notion of Cathedral. We found ourselves whispering in hushed tones out of respect. Even the local wildlife is quiet. With the trees comprised of naturally inherent tannins, they are insect-repellant, and therefore even the chatter of birds is kept to a minimum.
We sat and sketched a giant for a good long while. It was cold and quite humid.
All in all, it was a wonderful getaway. January in Ohio is not for the feint of heart. A friend of mine, also from the world of Irish music, was saying last night that while she has lived in places with reputations for the harshest weather winter can throw at us (i.e. Alaska, Montana) she has found that winter here in SW Ohio/ N. Kentucky is particularly draining for it’s gray heaviness. Difficult to convey to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, we here in this river valley trudge through the winter months as best we can, thankful for the opportunity to get out of town when we can.
I left the Hub in California to do his work and I to come home to do mine. The temperatures were in single digits upon my arrival which was shocking to the system to say the least, considering I had had my toes in the pacific ocean just days before. But, I made some little woolen boots for my smallest dog, brewed a lot of tea, and carried on.
“Have you seen the girl with the mind on fire?”
“Have you seen the girl with the heart as big as the sea?”
I am not the only one with a big heart and a mind on fire, yearning and churning for a bit of change. The world at large is calling for it as well, at least women and those who love and respect them.
This past weekend marked the 1 year anniversary of the Women’s March and we did it again. While the news didn’t make much of it, the numbers appeared to be as large if not larger this year. I was at our march here in Cincinnati and while the palpable shock of the election of a vile predator-in-chief was not as present this year, a continuing sense of outrage was.
The energy was palpable.
These strange times seem to have unleashed a free for all on many levels. On the one hand, the highest levels of power, especially in this country, are seemingly above all scrutiny. Politicians who once would have run a president out on a rail for the kinds of shenanigans ours pulls off, merely turn a blind eye and shrug off the behaviors of the current administration. I marvel. But the flip side of this coin is the notion that really, anything is possible. And I find a bit of hope in this.
I find that there is a fire in my own mind of late. The travel bug is turned on full-force by this most recent trek to the fair state of California. Guatemala is right on it’s heels, a mere 37 days away for me, with workshop participants arriving shortly there after. And there are more adventures to follow. Traveling shifts perspectives and asks us to consider hard questions. Questions such as, should we give up this little track of land, with is gardens and trees and lovely, soul-nourishing green space and quietude, for a condominium with less upkeep? Could doing so free up even more time and money for travel? Or would we regret giving up this amazing space? Do we want to even stay in Cincinnati? For me the draw of my family and friends (this includes my art and music family) is a big one. But part of me feels my studio practice could really use a daily walk in the wild, versus the familiar suburban paths here in Ohio. These are all the questions burning just now. And likely they will continue to do so for a while.
One could go a little off the rails with these ponderings, but the work will always bring me back to center. Sitting down to write a bit here settles my bones. From across the room, the paints call to be mixed up to craft some new paintings. Who knows where they will lead. Story ideas come and go, flitting and floating in clouds of doubt and fear. Rays of light amidst the dust particles. Today on this day of endless gray, I’ll follow the words, follow the paintbrush, follow the breath to whatever comes next.
Why a change in price? Well aside from a few costs which have risen in the 7 years I’ve offered this workshop, for the 2018 offering next summer, I am expanding the workshop to be a full 5 day offering. Usually we have a full 4 days, with departure on Friday morning of our week together to give folks a chance to head to the hills and practice all they have learned in four days of workshop exercises. But over the years, participants have been loathe to part and I have gained more and more to offer and so, I give another day to it all, which changes the pricing structure a bit as well.
I hope this new structure works for everyone. I already have a handful of folk ready to join us in June. Won’t you be one of them? New Mexico is a spectacular place in which to tap into the language of an artful soul.
Send me an email if you need any more information about the workshop or what it entails. If the class speaks to you but you feel you are ‘a beginner’ or ‘can’t draw’ or any of that other stuff, I assure you, I’ll help you sort all of that out in the doing of it. Trust me. You won’t be disappointed.
My yearly pilgrimage to the Land of Enchantment began with a few days of solo travel, enabling my body and soul to sink back into this place. The last year has been a challenging one in many ways, not without its bright spots as well, and I had been craving time and space to sit with the everything of all of it. New Mexico has a way of giving us what we need.
I drove and drove, many long, mindless miles, embracing the quietude that comes with such spacious landscape.
Chaco Canyon is a vast and far-flung destination but worth the effort it takes to get there. With a near full moon upon us, the regularly scheduled star gazing tour provided by the National Park Service, instead became an evening walk amongst the ghosts of this strange land. Haunted and beautiful, indeed.
By the time I made my way to a charming little Super 8 in Bloomfield, NM that night, I had been up for 22 straight hours and slept, dreamless.
I found Chaco to be a mixed bag of ancient history, natural splendor and cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, I was grateful for the opportunity to visit and experience this Unesco World Heritage site, and to the NPS for their careful and respectful stewardship. And yet, more than one ranger remarked that native people in New Mexico and beyond have stated that these places are meant to fade back into the ground after they have served their purpose – all of their great mysteries, feats of architectural engineering and ghostly human stories lost to the sands of time.
I left Chaco a bit conflicted about it all yet enchanted all the same with wonderings about what sorts of people lived or worshipped here and what we might have in common. It was so good to be out in the wide open spaces of New Mexico with the vistas both outward and inward it provides to a tired soul. Grateful for my solitude and art supplies, I soaked it all up.
Then, just like that, it was time to head to O’Keeffe country….
I was fortunate enough to snag a ticket to a “Special Tour” of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio led by a personal caretaker of Georgia’s and her brother, who worked the gardens in her later years. This tour worked magically into my schedule for traveling to Taos to teach the following week and so I invested in it.
There is such serenity to O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu home. Her aesthetic was modern yet earthy – timeless, really. No photos were permitted of her indoor spaces but I was captivated by the light, the serene colors, and the fact that she too kept jade, aloe and other such plants that many of us keep in our own homes. She collected stones and bones and other things she found beautiful and surrounded herself with them. Knowing this about her and seeing these collections in her home and just outside felt very personal, artist to artist.
I was captivated by the sense of this place.
Eventually, upon arrival back home here in Ohio, I chuckled to see that my own hollyhocks had bloomed while I was away, and I was welcomed by my own ghostly skull….
I’ll admit to geeking out a bit while in the home and gardens of this iconic artist. I stood in the very doorway Georgia herself had found compelling enough to paint again and again, exploring its shape and form and depth.
It was like standing in a portal of history. And I have always been a lover of doorways to other worlds.
These few days could have been ‘enough’ to fill this empty artist’s cup and set me to painting once again. But alas, I had not come to New Mexico for the making of my own work. I was here to teach.
Taos has become my home away from home in the years I have spent teaching there. Much like Georgia O’Keeffe herself, the lure of New Mexico brings me back time and again, every summer, and each year I discover more captivating beauty and I continue to build community as well. Mabel’s family has grown and changed with the newly employed and the newly born, yet Mabel herself is still in charge of the place and I was welcomed home with open arms.
I took to getting settled, washing the dust of the road off in my familiar claw foot tub in Tony’s bathroom upstairs, and unpacking all of my boxes of books and supplies – readying the classroom space for a week ahead of work and wonder.
By day I worked and by evening I caught up with dear friends. It had been a year since my last visit and that is far too long. I was caught up on the latest dog walking paths, and introduced to new dirt roads and rushing riverbeds. I held a new Little Bird and gleaned a small smile from her. I was told with a wink and a smile that if we only found a little slice of land, that we too could build a small adobe space of our own near town, and that I’d have all the help I’d need for this handmade home. I’ll admit I am tempted.
Soon the beautiful people attending my workshop arrived, some new to me, others who’ve been before and return home to Mabel’s to renew their contract with what has become sacred work. I no longer question this truth -that what I do in these workshops is indeed a sacred kind of work.
What started out, for me at least, as a way to get to know the world and to slow down and take it all in with the wonder that befits it, has become an intense practice of creative mindfulness. On the one hand, I’m introducing and sprucing up the old lessons of composition and perspective, line quality and color theory. And yet, on a much deeper, richer level of the soul, I am working with people to disengage their inner critic (just give her a cookie and a window to sit by, she’s been hard at work and deserves a break, don’t you think?), to tap into their birthright of creativity and the act of making something which makes a heart sing.
Occasionally, we worked in our books from memory, such as when attending a sacred Corn Dance at the Pueblo and we must only capture images in our mind’s eye. I will note here that all of the images below are now in the private sketchbooks of these artists, as records of the day’s experiences. Very different than taking a photograph, which is prohibited on feast days. We have a deep respect and regard for this notion.
But mostly, we studied from what we had in front of us there and then. The Mabel Dodge Luhan House has much to offer in the way of beauty and things to pull into our sketchbooks and so we did.
We discussed how to capture that sense of ‘hither, thither and yon’ which beautiful landscapes provide us with. Otherwise known as ‘atmospheric perspective’.
We worked and played each day, sometimes into the night. I was a bit manic with the magic of it all to be honest.
But I love this work and the people who are drawn to it. I had to milk the time there for all it gave to me! I even found time to settle in to a tune or two with the local session players who welcome me every visit ever so graciously. For this I am deeply grateful.
As the week went on we sketched and laughed and drew and painted and ate good food. We were treated once more to a visit to my friend Harold’s herd of buffalo which everyone enjoyed. There was a morning visit, and an evening time as well, as the buffalo are shy and do not accept great throngs of visitors. Small groups met Harold at his ranch home where we caught up with him and the herd. Grateful for the grace of these magnificent creatures and that of their farmer/steward.
Too soon, as always happens, it was that time.
Time to toast to a week of work well done. With dinner created for us by chef Jeremiah Buchanan whom we collectively adored!
We shared our books around and traded addresses and gifts such as a wee concert by Marty Regan who is a musician by trade.
It was time to pack up the classroom and mail home my supplies. I was grateful for the help and company of a few students who stayed around for an extra day to assimilate all we had learned together.
And it was time to visit a few more places before we had to leave this Land of Enchantment. Like the breezy hillsides of the DH Lawrence ranch.
I needed to take the time to sit by the river at the Pueblo and promise that I would come back. To memorize the sound of its waters which have come to me in dreamtime at times.
Time to ponder moody skies which seemed to beckon “Come back and paint, quietly.”
On my final evening in town, with all of my company scattered to the Four Directions, the skies opened up with the great gift of a thunderstorm. This brief storm was filled with ethereal pink light that I longed to paint somehow.
A friend of mine asked me the other day during our very ‘middle-age-appropriate’ discussion of “What Are We Doing With Our Lives” if I didn’t think that being a good teacher might be Enough. I had been filling her in on the Taos trip and what a deep success I felt it had been all around. I was telling her how enriching it is to teach something successfully, but that I have been struggling to make the switch back over to being a maker-of-things. More specifically, a painter and maker of pictured-stories for small humans. I feel blocked creatively, as if in all of the beauty found in the creativity of others, my own quiet artist self has taken to the hills. I am seeking to woo her back home to roost. I love being a teacher. And I am so excited that my spring trip to Guatemala next year is already sold out and that next year’s Taos trip already has some takers (and I haven’t even listed it yet!!). But I long to paint. And write. And draw. And I must trust this longing, even as I pursue my work in these amazing workshops. And so, no. I don’t think it is enough.
I think part of this perceived block is just my inner-processing of what was a stupendously amazing trip back to a place which I love dearly and work which excites and challenges me. A painter friend of mine reminded me to be gentle with myself. That teaching takes a lot out of an introvert. That making the switch back to quietude takes time. And so I have been being gentle. I have been holding off making this post about it all because in some way, to write about Taos time is to shut a lid on it until next time. Buttoning that space up so that I don’t lose track of it between now and next year. I hope to get back for a visit between now and then if I can. Perhaps even for a workshop with Solange Leboucher who is a practitioner of Polarity Therapy which I have come to lean on as a tool of the soul when I teach out there.
I don’t know. I do know that if feels good to get back here on this old writing space and share some photos and to attempt to convey in some small way the gratitude that I have for the work that I do. I marvel at the scope of it sometimes, even as I ask more of it.
Til, next time….. enjoy this summer’s travels no matter where you go.
pps. And these words, from Millicent Rogers…..
“Did I ever tell you about the feeling I had a little while ago? Suddenly, passing Taos Mountain I felt that I was part of the Earth, so that I felt the Sun on my Surface and the rain. I felt the Stars and the growth of the Moon, under me, rivers ran. And against me were the tides. The waters of rain sank into me. And I thought if I stretched out my hands they would be Earth and green would grow from me. And I knew that there was no reason to be lonely that one was everything, and Death was as easy as the rising sun and as calm and natural – that to be enfolded in Earth was not an end but part of oneself, part of everyday and night that we lived, so that Being part of the Earth one was never alone. And all fear went out of me – with a great, good stillness and strength.”
This time last week, hard to believe, I was packing up boxes and cases, making last minute visits to loved ones in my home away from home, grasping hugs and goodbyes to new and old friends alike, with promises not to forget.
It’s easy to come back home to our day to day lives and forget the work we have done while in Taos. The week out there being just one in a year full of so many work-a-day weeks. Weeks when we might be tempted to forget the importance of our day to day creativity. And how crucial that creativity and the belief in it are to a Life Well Lived.
Each year I marvel at how a little class focusing on keeping a daily visual journal can become such Big Work. It IS Big Work. And I mustn’t forget.
For myself in my own practice of it, and for my students as well. What once started as an art class with some sketching and gathering involved, has morphed into a week each summer where some like minded folks come together to open up to the world.
It’s really as simple as that. And as complicated.
I’ll attempt here to share a little bit of what we accomplished this year in Taos.
First off, re: the little ditty at the very above. I really miss my Taosñas. Each is a beautiful Chip of a Star. Every year whoever needs this class comes to it. I panic a little as registrations come in (or don’t) and remind myself that this is not up to me. My job is to put it out there and those who are supposed to be there, will be there. This year was no different. I had some repeat attendees whom I hope benefitted from new tricks, and some newbies whom I hope are affected forever by the power of the work. I really, really miss them. We somehow manage to pack a year in a day, everyday, day after day. And every morning they’d show up at breakfast, exhausted, raw and ready for more, much like myself.
Pictures cannot do the week justice. But I have a few snapshots to share, and a few more words as well.
I arrived in Taos and the town was hopping, unlike usual. The Mabel and Company show was making quite the splash down at the Harwood, and if you are in town, I recommend you see it. This place has attracted artists and movers and shakers since before history. The show at the Harwood gives us a snapshot of one such time in history when the attraction was especially compelling to the likes of Georgia Okeeffe, Ansel Adams, and DH Lawrence.
On both the front and back ends of this trip personally, I opted to get out of town and visit the old Lawrence Ranch, now owned, operated and managed by the University Of New Mexico. I was blown away by the sense of place I found there.
In particular, the famed Lawrence Tree captured my imagination and the interest of my pencil. I truly enjoyed spending time with this tree.
In my heart of hearts, I think each tree has a soul of sorts, but like people, some trees have a soul which shines brighter than most. This is one such tree. And Georgia O’Keeffe knew it herself.
It was an honor to spend some time with it. Humbling as well. Because, let’s face it, not all of us are Georgia’s. We must all find our own way.
Meanwhile, folks arrived and gathered and we began the week with some exercises “where the tight are loosened, and the frightened are freed.”
I love the energy of these early drawings. And wish I had gotten more images of all of the work done that morning. Basically, we laid some locally found color down and then did some contour drawing over top. But the end product was less about what was on the page and more about what remained in the heart of the artists themselves. Suddenly, those who came to the table buttoned up with all kinds of amazing skills, found their work loosening and changing and growing. And the beginners, well, they had these gorgeous instant drawings they didn’t know they were capable of creating!! It was pure magic.
Later that afternoon, as luck would have it, the Pueblo had a dance to attend. So we moved the afternoon class to the evening, and traveled en masse to witness the dancing.
I have taken to not posting much about what we witness at these dances at/in the Pueblo itself, as they are sacred, and really only to be witnessed first hand. But overall, for Day 1 of an art workshop, this was kind of a spiritual ticket to the delicious underworld of it all. Someone remarked that the energy in the classroom that evening was more like that of Day 4 than Day 1, and I credit that to the workings of the day at the Pueblo.
As the week went on, day two into day three, all began to roll together. I had structure laid down for the work each day, but into that structure, Magic came. And the days, once again stretched and changed and became Other.
Creativity is really just the structuring of Magic.
In the past we have had the great pleasure of visiting the buffalo herd of my now dear friend Harold Cordova. In spite of some serious new responsibility on his shoulders we once again paid a visit to these amazing animals who were nursing some new members of their herd and shyly introduced us….
As usual, these regal beasts wove their way into our hearts and into our sketchbooks.
And in the spirit of the endlessness of the days of this particular trip, I found time that evening to play some tunes with local Taos friends who have become dear to me over the years. In spite of teaching all day. In spite of a spiritual visit to some otherworldly animal friends. Eventually, we did this twice during my time there this year. Again, I marvel. At the sheer deliciousness of it all.
Of course, all work and no play, make Amy an insufficient instructor, and so I did manage to get my feet up now and then, as per the instructions of the history of the house….
I’m no Dennis Hopper, but I do know how to put my feet up . Special shout out to my dear friend Jamison who set this bit of relaxation up for me there. All in keeping with the spirit of the house.
(yes, this hammock was in the same spot as Dennis’s hammock back in the day. Amazing how the stories of old speak to us in this day and age, via something so simple as a hammock.)
Meanwhile, we worked and worked and worked….. (and I took a few – but not many- pictures.)
Sadly and soon, it was time for our annual end of workshop dinner….
The food at Mabel’s was, per the usual, show stopping. They are true artists. And we are grateful for the gorgeous, plated dinner to which we were treated that evening. (not to mention, the breakfasts and lunches day to day!!!) No dinner in Taos that evening could have compared to ours, I am certain of it. The food and the people of my day-to-day in Taos are what I am missing the most, really.
I am now back in Ohio. I have lots of delicious plans for further travels with loved ones and into musical mires which themselves transcend time and space much like my time in Taos. But these are different than Taos, and I am still missing my time there. The me there. The Us there. There is a small bit of me that hangs onto it throughout the rest of the year. A bit that only those Who Have Been There can really relate to.
My goal is not to forget. Not to forget how crucial this work is in a crazy world so hell bent on crushing delicate creativity. Not to forget how Big this work is when sometimes my day-to-day feels so very small. Not to forget that lives have been and are being changed by the simple act of keeping a journal, or of making a little drawing of something beautiful each day. This is important. This, is work worth doing.
In the end, I think Lani Potts, a workshop participant this year and also an artist and a poet, put it most beautifully in this poem which found its way into her journal….
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.
It’s a delightfully cozy morning here. I am just landed from a wonderful weekend away to Oak Ridge, Tennessee for the 8th annual Tune Junkie Weekend where a few of my normally more summery connections gathered to play music and catch up and play more and more and more music. We are indeed junkies of a sort, fairly obsessed and addicted to this delightful folk tradition. The weekend is mostly a ‘session-centric’ event but there was a concert put on and a few of us flute players played a few sets with the help of a couple of fiddles and a piano.
It was, overall, just a fantastic time and my musical cup is full. I am grateful for this last weekend as it helped pass the time that I must wait for the next Big Trip coming down the pike.
Very soon, my long-time honey and I are off on an adventure to places of a more tropical sort and I almost can’t stand the wait! But for now, I must catch up on work both here in the studio, and at the shop. There are exciting things brewing! I’ll share a little bit of it all here…
First up, a dear friend of mine is in the process of putting together an online marketplace which will feature some of the arts and creative wares from our general vicinity. There is so much talent and creativity here in this rich Ohio Valley. I am proud to be a part of it and thrilled to have a few of my cards and other small works soon available for sale through her efforts. Business acumen is not a strong suit of mine and being a part of this marketplace is an opportunity I am really grateful for!! I will certainly keep you posted when the shop is open for business which is slated to be in March. More soon!!
Meanwhile, the annual Taos Trip registration process is chugging along briskly. I have a lovely group put together already, but there are a few slots left. Do contact me if you are interested in learning a bit about my journaling process which includes drawing, watercolor painting, and collecting the beauty of the travel experience. And, while I’m at it, the beauty of day to day life really. All of this is enhanced by making note of what captures our fancy in a little book. This is a process I have found to be life altering. And I don’t say that lightly.
While not running hither and thither with a sketchbook, my studio based work has been essentially two pronged. On the drawing table, Ginger Small has a little dummy book put together that I have been shopping around. This process of putting my book ideas out there is daunting, as one doesn’t get much response beyond the occasional ‘no, thank you’. But I know that this is all part of the process. I have so many ideas!! Like spaghetti thrown at the wall, something eventually has to stick!! Best of luck to sweet Ginger and her stories and pictures….
Also from the drawing table, my artwork now covers the gorgeous new album by Nuala Kennedy. We worked together to capture the magic and adventuresome, seafaring spirit of many of the songs and tunes she’s collected in her latest work. It’s a delightful listen and I am proud to have helped put visuals to the stories she tells.
The other prong of my art making process has been lately centered around the sewing basket. Perhaps it’s the time of year. Or the fact that embroidery is super hot right now, but that’s primarily what I have been working on. Needled pictures which are time consuming but great fun to produce.
I’ve been revisiting some older embroidered works of mine over on my Instagram page, as well as creating new works like the Quetzal in process (above) and a little otter friend too….
With all this stitching going on, someone was bound to notice and so I am very proud to say that my large scale embroidery, Leviathan, is now Whale-in-Residence at my favorite fibery haunt of late, Fiberge Knits and Bolts, located in the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood of Cincinnati. If you are local, do stop by and visit her!! It was sad that she was trapped in my studio behind the door. Now she swims the walls at this beautiful little shop. There are some rumblings about a possible spring class I may offer at Fiberge about the art of pictorial embroidery. I will post more on that here on the blog when we settle the details.
And that, as my mom says, is all the news that’s fit to print. I will certainly be sharing my upcoming adventures via stitches and sketches in the coming weeks. For now I will ride the wave of flux and change and ebb and flow that this life seems to be offering me just now. I am filled with gratitude for it all.