Recent Travels with My Tribe

Part 2:

I learned a great deal from my past three Summer School courses. I barely recognize the woman I was in 2017, the woman who struggled to answer the question:

“If expense were not an issue and you had a 6-month sabbatical, what would you like to do?”

My answer? Crickets.

During that first Summer School in 2017, I realized that for years I had been leading a reasonably happy life, working full time, had a small group of lovely friends, but I had no dreams whatsoever. I was mildly depressed, but had nothing to complain about, right?

I was very clear on what frightened me: physical illness (which has visited me often), financial loss…you know, the usuals. Most of all I was afraid of disappointing (or God-forbid angering) the people I cared about. I lived in fear of being judged, while all the while I was slowly crucifying myself. I came to understand that without a dream, I could only focus on avoiding pitfalls, and that is no way to live.

Rereading my notes from the last three Summer Schools, I am amazed. My circle of creative friends now consists of about a dozen amazing people. We could never meet up for coffee because we live all over the world: Oregon, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Belgium, Australia. We are not all writers or painters or embroiderers or bloggers or knitters, but that doesn’t matter because what we do have in common is Mutual Enthusiasm, and the willingness to show up even on our not-so-great days, to cheer each other on.

Creative output flourished this past year: It is because of their unfailing support that in the last twelve months, little by little, I was able to create forty blog posts and have a successful watercolor exhibit selling over twenty-five paintings.

Resilience also appeared unexpectedly: When I killed a perfectly good laptop with a cup of tea, I barely missed a beat,  scrounging together the money for a new, smaller computer. No time wasted grieving or berating. Why? Because I was clear–I needed one to continue doing what I do, being who I am.

Vision is about Perspective too: I experienced more complications with my dwindling eyesight, but rather than letting it discourage me like it did thirty years ago, it inspired me to push on even harder for the time I have left to see.

Reaching beyond my neighborhood: In January I combined my love of writing and watercolor, and pitched a proposal to an international education travel organization. They liked my ideas, and preliminary plans were in the works when the pandemic hit. No worries: God willing, when the pandemic has run its course, that project may be resurrected as well.

This past year would have slipped through my fingers if I were not preparing for Week One of our next Summer School: the week where we look back and identify the high points and challenges of the prior year. (Remember “Seize the Sieve”? Very Important!)

So here’s my point.

Sometimes it’s helpful to look back over your shoulder, simply to see where you started losing the thread of your creative passion, settling for tidying the house instead. But we don’t linger looking back, because there is serious dreaming to be done.

Next, we look at where we are today, and let ourselves dream a bit (or a lot), possibly using a guidance system for support.

Then finally, we each make a plan. We write out the dream in a love letter to the Universe. We write about our creative goals, and at the same time make a plan for how we will take care of our creative hearts along the way. We infuse our plan with a gentle affection for our sweet self.

Then each of us shares this plan, this personal North Star for the coming year, with the inner circle of our tribe, and they share theirs with us. We make a plan to get together, online or in person, regularly, even weekly, to check in and cheer each other on.

It is important to also create a private daily practice, to remind yourself why you are showing up for life in this brand new way. Thanks to the Artist’s Way course, I write Morning Pages daily, and I feel off-balance if for some reason I skip a day. Those pages are my car-pool lane to Gobsmacking Insights.

I don’t need to write the greatest American novel or finest blog post ever or paint a watercolor that appears on the cover of Time magazine. What I do need to do is befriend the woman I am, whom I have treated so unkindly over the years, pushing her to get better and better at things that didn’t fill her heart. I struggled so hard to fit in, in worlds where I didn’t belong in the first place. Now the entire world is my home, because I found my tribe.

You deserve to be understood and applauded. Remember: the only thing worse than a blank page is a blank stare. Get a tribe. Surround yourself with a few wonderful people who get you, get your heart and soul, and are applauding all the way.

Then get ready to soar.

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With a little perseverance and the right tribe, you too can create a glorious mess like this! Every page of every sketchbook is a vivid reflection of time well spent.

Posted in Musings on Life, My Story, Sketchbooks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

For God’s Sake, Get a Tribe!

It’s that time of year again, when a few friends and I spend four weeks planning out our dreams and goals for the upcoming year, and of course in order to do this, we begin by looking back on the year just ending. The reason we do it now, as opposed to using a tradition calendar year, is because our project is called Summer School.

Remember your first experience with the notion of ‘summer school’? As a kid I thought of it as the long version of school detention. The students that had to go to Summer School had been absent too much (or absent-minded too much), so in order to be promoted to the next grade level, they had to put in extra time in a sweltering classroom while the rest of us kids were either goofing off, having summer jobs, or spending time with our families. Summer School was like a punishment for having been dull or distracted. It wasn’t at all like other summer learning experiences, like going to Music Camp, or Sailing Camp, or Scout Camp. No, it was Summer School. (Cue dark, minor-key chord, struck twice.)

Over recent years I too had become overly distracted and I needed to do extra work in order to advance to the next level. The purpose of our Summer School is to help us recall what we were learning before we got distracted by paying bills, going to work, tending to a rambunctious family and aging parents. Somewhere along the way, each of us had lost track of the syllabus and had gone into survival mode instead. I had found myself feeling like the proverbial nerdy kid stuck in an endless series of gym classes.

So, what do you do? For a while you suck it up, you survive, but you sense you’ve lost the thread entirely. After a while, if you are lucky, you hit a point where you just can’t carry on. That is when you need Summer School.

In order for Grown-Up Summer School to really work, you need exactly three things:

  • First and foremost, you need you, curious brilliant you, clamoring for the joie de vivre that you know is possible, but you just forgot where you put it, perhaps under the piles of laundry and dirty dishes and doctor appointments.
  • Second, you need a methodology that you don’t have to invent. You cannot be both teacher and student, so let yourself be led by a loving, gentle, clear mentor. If you long for the freedom to experience creativity through writing, visual arts, craftsmanship, music, or theatre, then the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is a possible guide for you. I just completed the twelve-week program and it was life-changing, much more so than when I read the book in 1992 when it was first published. The reason it worked so well this time is simple: I was not doing it alone.
  • You need a tribe. Finding the one that actually fits your needs may be the hardest work of your life, as well as the most rewarding. Many dead-end roads will present themselves. For example, over the years I easily found people who enjoyed watercolor, or sketching, or writing, or heart-led spirituality, or playfulness, or cartooning, but none of those rabbit holes seemed to connect underground. There was no warren–there were only individual nests. In the past I felt forced to choose between them, and tried to let the rest of my heart’s desires wither, a Sophie’s Choice of the soul. Excruciating, but it seemed like the only way to go.

A few years ago, I began again to search for a tribe that would support all the sides of the diamond that is me (and is you as well, in case you didn’t know). It is so much easier now, lucky you! Back at the beginning of my search, there were no such things as Facebook Groups or even Facebook (founded in 2004), no Meet-Up groups (created in 2002), no Sketchbook Skool (founded in 2014), no Zoom video chat rooms (created in 2011). All you had back then were your local colleges, garden clubs, civic organizations, and adult-ed art classes. They were wonderful at teaching specific techniques and skills, but were less focused on creating deep and meaningful community.

And community, your true tribe, is that third essential ingredient.  It is what you need in order to get yourself back on track. You need and deserve a group of like-minded folks who also feel they have misplaced their joy, want it back, and are willing to put in some serious time to rediscover it. This is not a new idea really: there’s a reason why young boys form garage bands to learn to play music better. Even if you suck, you don’t suck alone.

But first things first: now it’s time for you to ponder. Do you sense a fulfillment gap in your life?

Part 2 to follow shortly…

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Turn those bumps into turn signals. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Posted in Cartoons, Musings on Life, My Story | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scotland: A Lack of Words Speaks Volumes

 

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I am in the middle of going back through all 92 of the blog posts I have created in the last four years, tidying them up a bit, deleting some, seeing things from a fresh perspective.

I read one from September 2016, could have simply left it and moved on, but I kept thinking, no, this one should be shared again. The blog post is about a film that for me is oddly uplifting during the pandemic we are now experiencing together. The film offers perspective.

Below you will see the link to my post, and at the bottom of it you will also find a link to the 75-minute documentary film which is available for free with Amazon Prime (a DVD is also available for purchase.)

From Scotland With Love.

Enjoy.

 

 

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Reopening the World: Will you forfeit what you have gained?

Although I would never say this worldwide pandemic has been a blessing in any sense, many people have discovered that running at a snail’s pace has its perks.

The question is, even though you may be on the verge of returning to work or to a busy social schedule, will you be able to still keep a nugget of slow rhythm in part of your day? As we begin to look outward to the possibility of work and family and friends and travel –all the buzz that was Life-Before-Covid– can you choose to sanctify a 20-minute chunk of time each day to continue your Humble Creative Habit?

So many of us never have had the willpower to practice sitting meditation. We got fidgety. We never had time to take the twelve-week art class. Besides, it was too expensive or we were too self-conscious.

But then in March or April 2020, when we had nothing better to do and were a bit restless as well, we pulled out that dusty half-filled sketchbook from 1997, opened it up, and made a mark on the next empty page.

The mark read: “A New Beginning: April 2020

Carrying the sketchbook and pencil under our arm, we then walked into the kitchen, picked up that tomato, onion, cutting board, and the old paring knife that Mom always used, walked back to the dining room, plopped them on the table, and started to stare.

First we noticed the bright reflections on the tomato, created by the sunlight from the window. Then we noticed the deep dark shadows cast on the table beside the two vegetables. That shadow made the base of the tomato and onion almost indistinguishable from the table itself. We gazed at big shapes, no details.

Then the pen found its way into our hand, and we were amazed at the trail it left behind on the paper, as two eyes and a hand figure-skated together over each nook and cranny. We smiled, thinking how curious it is that this talented pen is the very same one we had used to create the grocery list that reminded us to buy those exact vegetables.

Then suddenly we notice we are almost bored, so we stop, and look at what we have done. We are not all that impressed, yet we are somehow more contented than we were before we began. Then if we are very brave, we gather up our still life, walk back to the kitchen, take that knife and make a sacrificial offering of that lovely tomato and onion, letting them transform into food for bodily nourishment as well as food for thought.

Developing Loyalty to Nourishing Habits

Your Humble Creative Habit, if you choose to sustain it, can easily become your favorite low-maintenance friend, always there, demanding nothing, giving you something to instinctively miss when you have been apart for too long.

When sketching, you can take a deep breath about 10 minutes in, and it feels just like a hug. During that Breath-Break I stretch a little, look around at my surroundings, come up for air, literally, before I dive back in for one last go at the page. It is easy to know when I am done—it is when I am no longer spell-bound. Even if the sketch isn’t done, I am. And since it’s my sketchbook, my meditation, who cares? It served its purpose.

I don’t have any local friends who really ‘get’ what I do, and that’s fine because I have intimate friends in faraway lands who have the exact same artistic-DNA that I have. We are Sketchbook Siblings, Creative Cousins, who upon our very first meeting exclaimed, “Wow, how have you been?” as if we were old buddies. There is a recognition among tribe members.

I have taken my very portable art-toolkit for a walk a few times recently, and after sketching the most mundane objects (like a stone wall, a fire hydrant, and a café patio), I felt reenergized in a way that is hard to describe.

Taking the time to sketch daily feels like an odd sort of victory lap.

With endless unanswered emails, bills to pay, vacuuming to be done, and dirty dishes in the sink, it is an act of rebellion and integrity to say,

“No, first things first. I need to go look at something.”

And when you return from your artistic trance, you are better for it. The world is better for it. Look at that!

 

(In case you’re curious: Handbook Watercolor Sketchbook, Pentel Waterbrush, Pilot G-2-Bold Gel Pen)

Posted in Pen & Ink, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Perks of a “Look at That!” Attitude

Sometimes we forget why we do what we do.

I fell back in love with sketching outdoors about six years ago, after a very long hiatus. I had drifted away from sketching, and in doing so I had forgotten what magic it held. The magic is simple.

When you draw on site, you become simultaneously more alert and more relaxed.

How can that be? It makes no sense. But it’s true.

At first I sketched by myself, then I took a few online classes, and there I made friends I would not have met otherwise. Here is the blog of one such friend, Dana Burrell , whom I met through Sketchbook Skool. Dana lives about an hour away, and she and I get together to sketch while also introducing each other to our favorite sketch-able places (others might call them ‘photogenic’ places, but we choose to take ‘pencil-pictures’ instead.)

My journey from sketcher to sketchbook-art teacher surprised me, and I enjoyed the three years I spent working with adult students. I retired from teaching at my local art school a few months before the current pandemic temporarily closed the school as well, and until today, I thought I didn’t really miss teaching.

But then I watched this video by John Muir Laws.

Pour yourself a cup of tea or a glass of water, and settle back to enjoy watching about 12 minutes of this inspiring man.

The best way to teach: Appreciation

I so get what John talks about in this video. Think back to a time when, unbeknownst to you, someone was watching you and silently cheering you on. Then afterward they told you how impressed they were: at the impromptu speech you gave, at the way you paused to help someone for a moment, at the way you took time for them. Pretty motivating, right?

My first watercolor teacher, Giffin Russell of Antrim, NH, had the ability to spot the one thing you did well in your painting, then told you all about it. I love the word “admire”— from Latin, meaning to be ‘at wonder’.  Regular sketching can lead to wonderment, as John Muir Laws clearly emphasizes in his free online classes. His three prompts are:

“I notice…”

“I wonder…”

“It reminds me of…”

With this approach, we are allowed to simply take notes on what we see, spend more time being curious, and less time judging the ‘handwriting’ of our sketches.

Attention is a Skill

As John says, attention takes practice, just like everything else. The good news is that even when you are new at paying attention to what you see, you are automatically getting better at it. There is no time limit to how long you look at something before picking up your pen or pencil. For me, it helps to fall in love a little bit, before I start to draw…

Will you too become a nature journal ambassador?

Perhaps. Can you start by simply becoming a flora observer? (It moves around less than fauna!) All you need is a pen, paper, and an impromptu pause.

Yesterday I was walking to an appointment, and I realized I would arrive about 15 minutes early. Knowing they would not want me in the waiting room that far in advance of my appointment (due to the strategic reopening methods being honored by most businesses nowadays), I decided to pause a block away and lean on a granite post while I sketch-doodled parts of a nearby rhododendron bush. The first marks were quite uninspired, but I loved looking at what I was looking at (that is a key!), so I kept going.

I intentionally used a gel pen because I knew it would later react well to a selective application of moisture from my waterbrush. With that bit of water, I was able to reactivate the ink and give the black & white sketch some depth and life.

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Note: This shows an example of the ‘technique’, if I can call it that. (I neglected to take a picture of the actual in-progress sketch you see below!)

When I got back home, I decided to toss in a splash of color, not necessary, but still fun.

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If there ever was a time when we need to be re-inspired about being alive, it is now.

There is so much truly scary stuff in the news nowadays, not only in America, but around the world. Indulging in a time-out to look, observe, sketch, and breathe is not denial of the state of the world around us, not by a long shot. It is how we restore ourselves, how we resolve to observe, carry on, and keep participating in this life.

Sketching resurrects courage. Perspective is not just an aspect of art, it is an aspect of life.

Keep calm, carry on, and don’t forget the paper and pencil.

 

Posted in Musings on Life, Pen & Ink, Sketchbooks, Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Memorials and planting seeds

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Here in New Hampshire it is common wisdom that certain garden crops should not be planted until Memorial Day weekend. In the past it was because there was still a chance of a killing frost, even up until the end of May. With the warming of the planet, I don’t know how many gardeners still follow that guidance. Nevertheless, the end of May has always felt like an ending and a beginning.

This morning I was reading a blog post about  nature journaling by my good friend Michelle Geffken and it got me thinking. “What is my version of ‘pencil inches’ ?”

What skills do I want to grow?

Step One: Know Thyself.

If I had a magic genie lamp, and could make three attainable wishes, what would they be?

1- To be as fit as possible, considering my age. My desire for this has grown exponentially in recent weeks. I gaze with deep envy when I spot someone my age who is a healthy weight and reasonably spry. I mentioned this desire to a friend a couple weeks ago, and her response was, “That’s a very reasonable goal.” I was taken aback. A reasonable goal? You mean I am not kidding myself? Her response has had a lasting impact.

2- To be a published author. In order to do that, I need to devote focused chunks of time each day to writing, and not just writing in my journal, or even here on my blog. I need to select one of the three writing projects I have on the back burner, and focus on just one of them until it either starts to sprout real potential, or proves it is not truly compelling. My plan is to work on one book draft for four weeks, and only then evaluate my progress toward the ultimate multi-month goal.

3- To be a published illustrator. Again, this is where study and practice come in. I love the illustration shorthand used by illustrators like E. H. Shepard of Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows fame. When I take the time to actually copy one of his illustrations in my own sketchbook, I learn so much more than I would by simply studying it visually. Of course the only way to make this skill my own is through practice, practice, practice. Truth be told, I already own enough empty sketchbooks and blank pads of paper– no more vegetation need sacrifice their lives in my name. All I need now is begin in earnest, every day.

Three wishes, three activities that will give me joy, and that are simple to do. All that stands (and has ever stood) in my way is Impatience and Unreasonable Timelines. The goals have always been fine– the timelines, not so much.

Encouragement and evaluation don’t mix.

My life-long journey toward these three goals has been stumbling at best because I have tried to encourage myself while at the very same moment I was evaluating my progress.

It can’t be done!  When looking at my own work, evaluation comes more naturally than encouragement. Oddly enough, that is the exact opposite of how I treat my friends.

The good news is that with awareness, change becomes possible.

I am not married to my past, so today I choose Encouragement most every minute of the day, and I save Evaluation for special occasions, moments in time that I select in advance. In the meanwhile, I am free to fly. How about you?

If you could have three simple goals for the next growing season, what would they be?

Could you reach those goals in few months, or maybe a year?

During that time, could you be kind and encouraging to yourself, assessing your progress only monthly?

In the meantime, could you maintain faith in your ability to reach the next milestone?

Can you start by simply wondering what your three secret dreams truly are?

I believe in you, even though we have never met. Tag, you’re it!

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Shadow Graffiti

Posted in Musings on Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Have you ever taken a nap with your eyes open?

That’s pretty much what sketching felt like today.

I was gently focused on what I was drawing and at some point I thought, “Yeah, I think I’m done.” ( I wish you could hear how I enunciated that ‘yeah’—it was more like ‘yehhhhh-aaaaaah”—it had about four syllables.)

When I finished, I took a photo of the painting, and took another of what I’d been looking at, and it really did feel like waking up, like coming out of a trance. If you do it right, it is also a mood lift.

“You said ‘Do it right’—is that a technique? I collect techniques!”

You wish! No, it is not a technique, it is a change of eyeglasses, a whole new perspective.

‘Doing it right’ is giving yourself the same space, the same elbow room, that any musician has when they practice a riff or they simply practice scales in different keys, over and over, mindlessly. They are working on hand coordination and muscle memory, building up those really tiny muscles in our hands that otherwise don’t get used. Practicing musical scales is mindless, you just do it. And if your sketching skill is ever going to improve, you have to think less, and ‘cut down a lot more trees’ by sketching, all the time. (Here is a post that actually shows you the artist’s version of “practicing scales.”)

It’s the opposite of what you think:

You are aiming for Quantity, not Quality.  Isn’t that a relief!

As a beginner you simply can’t afford to be invested in the results of your time spent sketching. Later on, you also shouldn’t be too invested in the results. The good news is that for some odd reason (wink wink), the results will improve on their own.

So sketch often, but not long

Try not to work on a single sketch for any longer than 30 minutes. This is for two reasons.

  • One, you’ll have less chance of overworking it.
  • Two, personal rust. If you lose all track of time, you might also lose your ability to stand! Honestly, at my age, when I get really into it, I forget to move and I have trouble unwrapping my crooked sitting position when I’m done. I forfeit any semblance of grace in trying to stand up again. So remember: move!

Today’s Adventure

Today I had an errand to run (a reason to go outdoors), and it was a beautiful cool/warm day, so I donned appropriate clothing, visor cap, sunglasses, my face mask, and ventured out with my brand new, never-before-used art-kit: the one I didn’t need, the one that initially gave me buyer’s remorse, and yes, the one that I now love with a passion.

The main new item in my kit is the canvas organizer itself, from the wonderful Maria Coryell-Martin at Expeditionary Art in Port Townsend, Washington. Let me walk you through everything.

The Art-ToolKit: I recently bought only the empty version of the large canvas kit because I have a huge stash of supplies already (I have many other tools previously bought from Maria). Expeditionary Art also offers the two sizes in fully ‘kitted out’ versions as well. The canvas is high quality, rugged, well-constructed, and I know it will stand up well with respectful use.

Sketchbook: I prefer to use a nice 5″x8″ (A5) size sketchbook (like the beige one shown here, details at the end of this blog) instead of anything smaller. It gives me a place to rest the heel of my hand, and a place to attach a palette if I like.

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The tools:

 in the above photo, from left to right are:

2 watercolor pencils, grey and brown

1 water-brush

1 regular drawing pencil and eraser

1 Pocket Mister to moisten the paint as well as pre-mist the paper for large washes

(My sketchbook is tucked in the big pocket underneath)

On the right side, from top to bottom:

3 little clips to keep my pages secure in the wind

a refill syringe, (needle-free!), helpful to refill my water-brush from my water-bottle

a Pilot G-2 gel pen

a round travel brush, about size 10

little bits of scrap watercolor paper for notes and color testing

a Pocket Palette

In the large pocket underneath the right side I have:

my collapsible water cup

my wrist sock for wiping off my brush as I paint

The Palettes:

my 2 Palettes from Expeditionary Art: Pocket and Demi size (the ‘larger’ Pocket Palette is exactly the size of a business card holder- amazing!)

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From ‘Bag’ to ‘ToolKit’

Truth be told, before today I simply carried most of these same supplies loose in a 7”x12” canvas zipper bag which I then rubber-banded to whatever sketchbook I was using at the time. It worked perfectly well, except for breaking pencil leads by mistake, fumbling looking for things, dropping some of them, and the bag occasionally spilling out entirely. Also, it was easy to forget and leave something behind, because there were no designated ‘empty spots’ crying out, “What about me??” (Like the time I was psyched to watercolor, and the only thing I forgot was a paintbrush…)

The old canvas zipper bag worked fine, but not fine enough. Because the #1 obstacle to creating an enjoyable sketching habit is…

Lousy Momentum

Another name for Lousy Momentum is “Giddy-Up-Whoa Syndrome.” Imagine you have a real itch to go outside and sketch but, um, which palette? Which sketchbook? Do I even want to bother with color, or should I just take a pen and paper? Which pen? Aw, forget it, there’s another Miss Marple series on Britbox I haven’t finished watching yet…maybe I’ll go outside tomorrow.

The magic moment is lost.

Not so with a really good artkit, especially one with designated slots for all your favorite tools. (I can’t help but picture all the garage workshop walls that have the ghost-outlines of every hammer, wrench, and screwdriver spray-painted on the pegboard. You instantly know what is missing!)

When I organized my kit, I first decided I wanted the two tools that stay filled with water (the water brush and the mister) stored vertically so leaks are less likely–that’s why they are on the left. (See photo above.) Notice that my Mister has lime-green tape wrapped around the cap, making that precious piece of clear plastic harder to lose!  After that, I added everything according to instinct. I may switch out one pen for another, one pencil for another, but the Pen Slot and the Pencil Slot will probably remain in the same places. I have  used my Art-Toolkit only once, but I was pleased that I was up and running surprisingly fast, instead of fumbling around wasting time making decisions. A palpable difference.

The best part of having a kit all set to go is, well, that you actually go.

You get out of the house on a whim and really put your kit through its paces. You might decide you need little changes, so you jot yourself a note on one of those little scraps of paper that reads, “Replace this water-brush, it is clogged!” or “Add a pan of buff titanium.” These are things you could never figure out at home; you figure it out on site, en plein air, on the go.

Finally, the only thing better than a sketchbook is an illustrated journal.

I enjoy doing the drawing/painting first, then on the facing page I ponder in writing. I ask myself, what worked and what was difficult? What surprised me? I have a chat with the sketch I just completed, and we compare notes. That way I am left with a story that captures more than just a picture, more than just a collection of words. It becomes a time-travel recording, available anytime, anywhere, right at my fingertips.

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So here’s your challenge:

If you are already a Facebook user, consider joining my Facebook group, Drawing Attention NH. It is open to anyone pursuing this life-changing humble habit. Check it out, and after you join, I hope you will become a frequent contributor to the ongoing conversation.

As always, let me know how you got on.

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Periwinkle Pleasure. Can you spot the flowers?

 

(In case you’re interested,  Hand*Book Watercolor Journal, Pentel Aquash brushtrio of travel brushes, water cup )

 

 

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Pen & Ink, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Random thoughts on being fidgety

This will probably read like a ‘letter home’ in answer to the question, “What have you been up to since your virtual trip to Wales?”

It has been ten days since my last blog post (that suddenly sounds like a formal blogger’s confession), and I admit the well has not refilled quite yet. I have been editing rough drafts for my memoir collection, and have enjoyed revisiting those original journals which contain familiar handwriting yet describe bumps in the road that I have long since forgotten.

Why on earth would anyone bother writing a memoir?

Good question. One delightful reward is perspective. Sometimes I catch myself thinking I have wasted much of my life, and that simply is not true. My life often did not go to plan, but whose life does?

Having a family ended up not being in the cards. Also, my work life didn’t end up in a tidy package called a Career–instead I had a series of Jobs. I worked full -ime throughout my life, often with no inspiration other than paying the rent and having continuous health insurance for a chronic medical condition that was diagnosed when I was 22 years old.

I moved every few years, either because the home situation became unacceptable (a chain-smoker who loved his balcony moved into the apartment below me) , or a new job drew me to live in a different part of the state or country.  As an office staff member working for very small businesses, the work environment could easily become overly intimate, or when working for a non-profit, the funding would simply run out and I would have to seek work elsewhere. My ‘transerferable skills’ had both an upside and a downside. You can go anywhere, but you are also expendable.

On the subject of ‘moving’, it sounds like it refers to Moving Day, right? No, that is the easiest part of the job by far. The rest, no matter how few possessions you have, is a long tedious process of sorting, making trips to the recycling center, trips to Goodwill, downsizing as you go, then wrapping and packing all the breakables and books, vowing  all the while to never move again, at least not for a while. I just counted up, I have moved 18 times in the last 53 years, on average every three years during my adult life. No wonder I’m tired! Luckily I also collected a lot of stories along the way–packing them up is easy and pleasurable.

Music to my ears

On a brighter note, I recently invested in a piece of equipment so I could transfer 1980s homemade cassettes to my computer. It is wonderful to once again hear the voices and humor of the singer-songwriters who were such a big part of my life back then. For years I lived in a folk-music-centric world, happily attending open stages, participating in some of them as well. I love being able to hear the banter and the jokes again, that delightful glue that held it all together. I heard Comradery in the air, even richer than the music itself.

What I miss now, despite being fairly content…

I miss the 21st century version of folksy coffeehouse banter–the sounds of a midday modern cafe! I’m sure you know what I mean. I miss having a place to go when I have no place to go and no reason to be there.

Every Tuesday morning pre-Covid-lockdown, I used to pack up this cheap little tablet computer and even cheaper wireless keyboard (possibly a sketchbook too), and head up the street to my cafe. There I would indulge in a few of my favorite things: a large cup of freshly brewed coffee, an elegant cafe-made oatmeal raisin cookie, and the luxury of writing in public. Sometimes the writing came easily, but other times, when nothing came to mind, I would simply sit and ponder…and eavesdrop.

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A sketching date with myself, at White Mountain Gourmet Coffee, Pleasant Street Concord NH, in early March 2020.

Unfortunately, a few months ago, people-watching went out the window along with hugging. I look forward to my next chance to hang out with people I will never really meet, and I will appreciate the experience as I never did before.

People are most relaxed when they think no one is watching (have you noticed?), and you just can’t get that ambience in a Zoom meeting, no matter how beautifully staged the background environment may be. There is still you, sitting right there in the middle of the grid (Hollywood Squares or Brady Bunch, depending on your perspective), and every urge to twitch is self-monitored carefully. I have been known to turn off the video and mute the audio, just so I can stretch and yawn and mutter and scratch my nose unobserved.

Zoom life is odd, there’s no getting around it. It’s not like sitting in a room with a bunch of friends, even if they are your friends, because the body-language is so limited. Online we interrupt unintentionally way more than we used to do in person. We sometimes even raise our hands if we are of a certain age! I notice when I am a bit bored with the conversation, my mind has a field day, making up stories, planning grocery lists, wandering far and wide without moving a muscle. I look at all the other people on my computer screen, so many of them sitting absolutely motionless, and I wonder, “How do they do that? Are they still there? Is that an avatar? Did their computer freeze?” Then I smile, thinking, “I wonder how many of them wish I would stop touching my face, stop fidgeting, stop nodding and smiling?”

Can you imagine if we all had cartoon thought-bubbles over our heads in all these video chat meetings? To have buck-naked brains would be way too much information, but it’s fun to think about it when you’re not paying attention. Perhaps you too are doing that already, watching the imagined bubbles overhead. Once again, cartoons are the way I make sense of my world.

So that brings us all to this curious place called “in the meantime.” This is where we are, a place where we can make loose plans, because firm plans are ill-advised. This is the time to consider possibilities, since all the certainties of the past seem to have vanished. It is either an insecure time or an exciting time– depending on your perspective, which of course belongs 100% entirely to you.

My advice as always, is to be well, keep doodling, and keep making stuff up. It’s the way of the future, a path some call resilience and creativity.

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One of my cartoons from years ago, when words were just not enough…

Posted in Cartoons, Musings on Life, My Story | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Episode 11/11…wherein I return home to 2020, and ponder next steps

I always experience a bit of emotional jet-lag at the end of a long trip, and this time is no different, despite having done all this travel sitting right here at my laptop in the living room.

It was exhausting at times. Each of the ten episodes took over six hours to create (research, writing, editing, drawing, and painting), and I know each one took about five minutes to read! That is why, every single day, I made sure I was still enjoying myself, despite the work involved. If it isn’t a labor of love, it’s not worth doing. Like so much in life.

(Before I forget:  Here is the link to the Road Scholar Adventure that was the basis for the tale I just spun for you. Feel free to sign up, and see how much of it I got right, or not!)

What’s Next?

In the past, when I have arrived home from a trip, I felt cured of wanting to see a suitcase for a very long time. Today I feel a bit ‘cured’ of the need to write for hours on end every single day, but I know that will be short-lived. In a few days I will continue writing this tale, but more privately, as I write about the next leg of this imaginary trip, next in England in 2022, to visit five wonderful women who actually do exist, who live in England, Scotland, Belgium, and Germany. These are ladies I met through our friend Michael Nobbs whom you met in Episodes 6 & 7. Who knows what trials I will put them through before I am done with them!

I am also eager to get back to ‘studio painting’: painting on nice thick watercolor paper, making big juicy messes with all sorts of experiments, without the pressure of an impending one-woman show.  As some of you know, when I started this virtual journey through Wales, I had just come off of several months of working diligently in ‘direct watercolor’, creating over two dozen framed 10 x 14 paintings. To go from that to doing small watercolor-and-ink sketches in a book with fairly flimsy paper for this Fake Journal Project was an adjustment!

Having said that, I don’t want to abandon the quick shorthand of sketchbook art. Studio painting and sketchbook art are exciting in such different ways. I became so comfortable with this simple approach while working on my Wales sketches at home, that I actually ventured outdoors in April, right here in Concord NH, to do some ‘urban sketching’ in the style I have done for years now.

I have been 98% house-bound since early March (I am in the high-risk group for Covid-19), but nevertheless, I suited up one day in mid-April with hat, sunglasses, mask, coat, gloves, and an outrageously flimsy notebook, a Pilot G-2 bold gel pen, and a water brush, to see if I could remember how simple it can be. And I did!

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Seriously, cars?? But just to be outdoors, sketching anything, felt good.

Other future plans

I want to establish a more normal, healthy rhythm (where I am not glued to my computer chair for hours on end every day), and incorporate stretching, strength-training, and a bit of cardio into the day, even if I don’t go outside.

I want to return to studying watercolor techniques with the amazing Lois Davidson, whom I support on Patreon, and whom I recommend to anyone who wants to see their watercolor work go to a higher level of loose, inspired semi-realism.

After a bit of time has passed, I want to also go back to my ‘Wales Tale’ and flesh out this 10-day journey that you have just read, by creating a few more characters, adding more interactions and conversations between them, as well as sprinkling in an unavoidable mishap or two! If it seems like it has gone well, I will look into ways to offer this funny little story as an e-book and as a small paperback, as I mentioned in Episode 10.

Why the heck am I telling you this?

Isn’t this blog supposed to be about “celebrating words and watercolor”? Well yes, and no.

It is about creating a life that is well worth living, and for me personally, that does include words and watercolor. I spent decades just surviving, and now during this pandemic it is more important than ever for all of us to remember to tuck little bits of joy into every day, and not wait for later when there may actually be no time left.

All of this is to say that if I can do it, you can do it. Exercising your imagination is as important as exercising your biceps. Otherwise, how will you be able to move aside the boulders, real or imagined, that may fall in your path in the future?

What we’re after here is resilience, every possible kind of resilience, and it is built one gentle, frequent stretch at a time. Stretch your muscles and stretch your mind. The imagination you use in writing fiction, and drawing from online photographs during this pandemic, is the same brilliant imagination you will have at your fingertips later when you need it to create a new world that is far better than the one we left behind a couple months ago.

I need your imagination as much as I need my own.

We are all in this together. Get sketching. Or writing. Or, oh heavenly day, both.

Posted in 2022 Fake Journal - "My Wales Tale", Musings on Life, Sketchbooks, Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Episode 10/11…wherein we explore all of Wales, in just one place

Sunday the 10th of April, 2022

Hard to believe that by the end of the day we will be at our final destination, a hotel near London’s Heathrow Airport. Along the way though, we will dawdle and wander and smile in appreciation at all we have learned together. It is fitting that our last stop will feel very much like a country-wide sweep, as well as traveling through centuries of time, landing us at St Fagans National Museum of History, a.k.a. the Museum of Welsh Life, four miles outside the capital city of Cardiff.

This morning, for the first time ever, we were all at breakfast on time, our suitcases stowed on the coaches, with time to spare. (Third time we’ve done this, finally getting the hang of it!) After breakfast we settled in our coach seats for the next-to-last time and were off for a two-hour trip from Lamphey to Cardiff. The first hour or so was quite scenic, along lovely country roads, then we crossed over the River Loughor and joined up with the M4, a major motorway that will take us first to Cardiff, then later on to our hotel near Heathrow.

My sketchbook went on a little tour of its own this morning, making its way all around my coach! This happened once before, at the end of my 2016 English Gardens trip, when a number of my travel-mates wanted to see what I had been doing hunkered down with my sketchbook, while they had all been running around snapping pictures! It was fun to hear them exclaim and laugh as they looked through it. I wasn’t self-conscious about them reading my notes as well as looking at my sketches, because I cleverly had also carried a separate little notebook for all the entries that were ‘for my eyes only’!

My friend David, the retired professor from Houston, had become a great chum over the past ten days, and when he read my cautious comment about him on our first travel day together, he laughed out loud. “You had reason for concern, my dear,” he smiled. “I am grateful for the folks who  took turns looking after me!” He was right, for some reason this lovely group of travelers were natural shepherds, keeping a watchful eye on each other so there were no strays, no need to call out the search party for lost souls.

So my sketchbook was passed around the bus, people took photos of pages they liked, and many vowed to bring a sketchbook with them the next time they travel. Some of the ‘nature folks’ (the ones who always travel with binoculars) had actually begun sketching with me yesterday in Cardigan, using their tiny photography notebooks. We sat scribbling away, while our traveling companions scrambled about the neighborhood, making sure they didn’t miss a thing. Great self-directed fun for everyone.

It’s funny to think that, in a way, each of us has had a unique experience of this program here in Wales. There has been a nice amount of ‘free time’ built into many of the days. The more of these RS programs I join, the more I am impressed by the planning that goes into making each itinerary  flow seamlessly. Road Scholar programs are about learning, as much as they are about travel, so no time is ever wasted in boring tourist traps full of souvenirs made in China. Never! These adventures are also designed so that the detail-oriented folks, as well as the big-picture gazers, are all happy at the end of the day.

On to today’s travelogue! Around 10 am we arrived at St Fagans, and gathered for a brief talk by our Study Leader Kevin. Then we were given 3 full hours to explore this immense 100-acre parkland and open-air museum. What fascinated me was the variety of full-size, original buildings, from various historical periods, that had been brought here from all over Wales and reassembled in this one place.  The forty buildings include farmhouses, barns, cottages, a craft workshop, a castle, a 13th-century church, and much more. Each structure had been on the verge of demolition at its original location because it was too far gone to be worth restoring. The buildings lucky enough to be selected for this massive Museum of Welsh Life were painstakingly moved from their original locations and reconstructed here, preserving not only the buildings, but the stories that went with them. The signage everywhere was interesting and clear, so you could easily learn the entire back story of each landmark building as you wandered the grounds. I later discovered the website  for this Museum is equally brilliant.

The place where I decided to sit and drink in the details was here, at the iron-ore miners’ house, the Rhyd-y-car Terrace, originally built in 1795 in Merthyr  Tydfil, some 23 miles to the north.

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The final Herding of the Road Scholar Sheep (that’s us!) was done swiftly at 1 pm, and as we boarded the buses we were each handed a packed lunch (a sandwich, fruit, and a drink) to tide us over until we reached London in late afternoon. The final ride was about three hours, through gorgeous countryside we had not seen before because 10 days ago we had landed to the north, in Manchester. Now we were departing from London further to the south.

Riding on the M4, and especially crossing the River Severn, I was reminded of the TV series “Gavin and Stacey” which I really enjoyed watching way back in 2020 during the stay-at-home quarantine. What a great show, light and funny, right when I needed a laugh. Today I kept glancing over to see if James Corden was racing along in the car beside us. We traveled through the beautiful rolling hills of North Wessex Downs, an officially designated “AONB”, or “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”. Honestly, how wonderful is that?

By around 4 o’clock we arrived at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow Hotel located near the airport, checked in, and had a bit of free time before our final meet-up downstairs. At this ‘last supper’ together, I know many of us were remembering our first supper only ten days ago, when we were exhausted from traveling, did not know each other, and were wondering what sort of odd bunch of folks we would have for traveling companions. Now many of us feel like we really are old friends– how on earth did that happen!

When tea, coffee and dessert were served, we followed the Road Scholar tradition of a round-robin sharing time. Each of us told one funny or poignant story (hopefully brief but not always!) about a special moment during the trip. With two dozen of us, it took over an hour to get all the way around the room. Well worth it, lots of laughter and a few sentimental tears as well. The microphone came to me near the end, and thanks to everyone’s encouragement, I announced that after I am home again and have some time to catch my breath, I will start my next project: turning my travel journal, complete with stories and sketches, into a little book that anyone can buy online, either as an e-book or small paperback. My new friends cheered and I blushed—now I have to actually do it! Exciting new learning curve, I am eager to start.

Since tomorrow morning will be a blur, with all of us leaving at slightly different times on different airlines, tonight was the time for goodbyes. The only farewells I will have tomorrow will be with our two wonderful Group Leaders and my roommate-now-friend Ellen. Since she lives in Maine, we have plans to meet up in Portsmouth, NH sometime over the summer.

At that time, together, we will look to the northeast, over the 3,057 miles of Atlantic Ocean, look past the southern tip of Ireland, and wave to the lovely Chapel of St Non on the Pembrokeshire peninsula. Travel makes old friends of one-time strangers. The country of Wales is now a friend as well, one I hope to meet again someday.

Ellen is asleep, and I feel a rich fullness that will easily accompany me to dream land. All that’s left is to check the alarm clock, shut off the light, and snuggle down one last time.

Posted in 2022 Fake Journal - "My Wales Tale", Watercolor | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments