There is a delicious space between one’s head and the page. Sometimes I am not so aware of it as I begin to draw. But several drawings of late have me pondering this place where connections are made, lines speak like words, life informs lines, and vice versa.
It is likely something I’ve known all along, but there are times when I am hit with a realization that feels new, like a discovery I haven’t ever uncovered before.
This week’s daily drawings of trees gave fresh insight into the differences between drawing from life ( or even from a photo I’ve taken) and drawing from my imagination.
Some of these tree drawings are purely out of my head, imagined trees which certainly have their source in the many trees I have drawn from life over the years. Whatever comes out of my head is directly shaped by what I’ve drawn before. I have always known that in order to illustrate well, I need to always be drawing directly from life. But here are some of the differences I’ve noticed this week…
Drawings from my imagination tend to have a story to them. I nearly always insert a person or an animal or something which is interacting with the tree.
I also notice that these drawings have a simplified, more straightforward look to them. There are fewer “things” in the drawing, and the line is a bit straighter and defined.
When I draw from life however, the line work has much more character and energy as the actual contour is followed on the page. I love the feeling of caressing what is in front of me as if my pen were actually touching the edges and inner contours of the tree.
The “life” drawings also show more of the tree’s connection to its surroundings. My pen meanders from the tree contours to its neighboring bush or house. The grass on the ground connects with the trunk of the tree unifying them and making the entire piece feel as if the tree could not exist solely on its own. It has to have the earth, the grass, the sky, the clouds and any other objects in its environs in order to fully be itself.
It is this very connection of all that surrounds us as we draw that excites me. I’m reminded that none of us exists merely on our own. If I were to draw you, just you, without anything from your environment, I wouldn’t really be able to tell too much about who you are. But if I drew you in the context of your everyday surroundings, I would get a fuller picture of who you are and what makes you tick.
I strive to do something like this in the imagined tree drawings as well. A tree needs what is around it to tell it’s story, or to tell whatever it is I’m trying to convey in my illustration.
Both approaches to drawing are ever so fun and have their benefits, advantages, and pitfalls. I’m enjoying moving back and forth between imagined trees and actual, in front of me, trees. And even trying to blend a little of both into one drawing such as this one directly above. I drew the actual tree in my neighbors back yard and then added the fantasy elf who I imagine is responsible for Knitting the ivy sweater onto the tree.
Both of these approaches to drawing, and several more, are explored and detailed for you in my new drawing ebook! I’m really thrilled to be able to offer this 64-page PDF titled Discover Your Life Beautiful, One Drawing At A Time for only a few cups of coffee! Check here to read more about it and see if you might enjoy beginning a daily drawing practice. Or perhaps you need some encouragement and fresh ideas for continuing what you already love to do!
If you want to follow my daily postings of the tree drawings then head over to Instagram! I’ll see you next week here with a recap of the week’s drawings of trees, both imagined and from life!
It really shouldn’t surprise me. Drawing has always been so much more than simply lines on a page. I forget this phenomenon of conversation between hands and heart, of lines bold and thin drawing out what I need to see or acknowledge. Of course I thought, when I set about to draw a tree a day, that I would simply draw them as I see them out in the yard or neighborhood or elsewhere. But trees have long been a favorite subject of mine for pen and paint. Not only because of their incredible structure and shapes, but because they embody so much meaning, so much life, so much wisdom for living.
Indeed they have lived through so much. The plum tree in our front yard enchanted me the day we moved into our home 17 years ago. But I have watched (through numerous drawings) it’s trunk twist and lean in a direction that I now wonder if it will fall over one day. The front steps’ view from which I drew it’s portrait the other day doesn’t show much of the leaning. I shall draw that another day. Weather, age, and a towering pear tree beside it have forced a reach for the sun and a twist in the trunk like fibers on a spindle.
On my daily walks now I pay more attention to the trees that I have walked beside for so many years and which I have drawn on so many occasions. They are aging even as I am aging. I notice the cut off limbs, the bulbous way a tree grows around a lopping-off, the recent trimmings, the hack jobs where it seems no care has been taken to remove a tree…just severed in half, leaving still a significant portion of the trunk to continue “living”, if it can be called living.
I also notice small trees, the little Charlie Brown ones, the skinny spindly ones that may grow tallish but seem twig-like against their beefier neighbors. One such tree is in our back yard. It is actually a hybrid willow/cherry tree. It really isn’t able to get enough sun being dwarfed by the neighbor’s cypress trees just feet away. Under this sweet little tree we buried our cat Lucy. A rock marks her grave and we imagine her delight in being outdoors resting peacefully beneath a blossomed bower.
Winter trees have always enchanted me with their exposed limbs and revealed structures. You really get to see their shape, asymmetrical Limb patterns, bird nests and other ephemera lodged in their web of branches. No two trees are the same. Each tree is a unique being, much like humans. Their scarred and marred trunks tell stories of life and loss. I need to listen to these stories as they echo my own. Somehow, in drawing trees daily for not even a week yet, I receive comfort and solace for the unfolding stories in my life.
I’m headed out the door now to walk amongst them, to listen and to draw sustenance for the day.
It is a truth, which I’ve experienced numerous times, that when help is needed, help is offered. This happens in a variety of ways, on so many levels in both my personal life and my creative life, which I see more and more are intricately entwined and cannot be separated from one another.
For months now I’ve felt an ever increasing sense of scattered-ness. I have held this open-heartedly as I move through numerous difficulties in life. I even know on some level that the scattered feeling in what I create with my hands is likely due to all that life is granting me to walk through. Here. There. Everywhere. Knit. Spin. Draw. Weave, crochet, embroider. Sketch, tapestry, design. Many mediums, lots of exploration, all of it I adore. The problem is that I do NOT adore feeling stretched thin. I do not like feeling as if it somehow doesn’t add up to anything . I’m not talking about sales. I’m not after notoriety.
All along there has been this tiny little voice saying…things were simpler when you Just Drew. Now to be honest, there has never been a time when the only thing I made were drawings. I have always knitted and crocheted (I’ve added spinning and weaving to the mix) but there have been long stretches of time where sketching and drawing were my Main Squeeze if you will. Spinning wool rivals the act of drawing for processing life. Yet there is an added element of the drawings themselves becoming my teacher in a way that hanks of freshly spun wool doesn’t quite reach. Today’s drawing is an example.
This tree is drawn entirely out of my head. An imagined scene where I started out only wanting to draw a tree (my new daily focus for the next year), then begs to have someone in it, myself, doing what I love to do under the limbs and next to the trunk of a beautiful winter tree. I’m drawing in my daily black and white sketchbook, choosing my thick and thin markers at will, enjoying the process, absorbed in the moment. (Ignore the odd brown stripe there…just the shadow cast by trying it take photos in the early morning dark.🙄)
When all is done, I sit back and look at what I’ve drawn. A whispered, oh my, quietly escapes as I ponder what I’m seeing on the lined pages. The tree has such energy, such vitality and movement within. I stand there, nearly ghost-like in comparison, spinning fibers which have the same energy and twist as the tree. And it is this reality of making drawings and how they teach me that I’m in need of daily. I need to be able to see that there is a beautiful pulsing energy at work in everything. Even in leafless trees.
So I’m committing to drawing a tree every day. I have always loved trees, loved painting and drawing them, love sitting with them, wishing I could hear them speak, and sometimes imagining that I actually can. I’ll post my tree sketches on Instagram and write about the process every now and then here. Join me if you can. And maybe commit to a focus like this as well. This doesn’t feel like pressure to me. It actually feels like freedom…to have one focus, even in the midst of making and doing so much else.
So what was it that helped me? As numerous friends are sending up prayers on my behalf, I take it as no small thing that I came home yesterday from teaching to grab lunch before heading off again. As I ate, I opened You Tube (yes, prayers CAN lead us to You Tube!😂) and I saw a Recommended for You video titled The Drawing Advice That Changed My Life. I’m a skeptic with hyperbole but wanted to see what this was all about. I watched it three times. Took notes. Wrote in my journal for half an hour before leaving for an appointment. Focus. I long for it. I’ve been feeling dehydrated for want of hay and water and not knowing which one to go for next. Donkey brain no more (you’ll have to watch the video to understand this😃). I’m off to draw a tree.
”There are eyes in pencils and pens.”
This quote by John Piper, found in a book I’m re-reading for the umpteenth time, echoes down a long hallway of years of drawing and writing. I know this to be true…how I see so much better when I’m wearing my pens. A bic pen for writing daily pages of whatnot, the same pen for sketching random doodles, a fine Sharpie and a bold brush pen for drawing, fat markers and dual-ended colors, and a splash of watercolor here and there all help me see the world more clearly and true-ly.
Today, the last day of 2019, feels like any other day, except for a small flicker of re-kindled hope. Not a hope that things will improve in the New Year, for so many of the difficulties and burdens of 2019 will go with me into 2020, and may even worsen. It is rather a hope much like a faint far off sound that tickles my ear to turn towards it. A sweet note (or is it a voice?) that I’ve heard before so many times…
…count them…draw them…put pen to paper…
…and in doing so, pin them to your heart and mind. So many gifts lay strewn at your feet, all around you, as you walk along the way, no matter how difficult or heavy the course. You need, Jen, to wield your pen in order to see the gifts.
Ok. I will. And what shall I pen and pin down with laser focus? What shall I count and list and name and draw into my heart?
Gifts. “Not gifts I want, but gifts I already have.”
-Ann Voskamp. 1,000 Gifts. Pg. 45.
I know this. Yet I forget what I already know…that gifts abound all around me every single day. This past year has brought gifts that I’d rather not have received, the painful difficult kind that has a way of overshadowing the lovely and joyful gifts.
As 2020 rolls in, I want to light a candle in those shadows, to peer down the end of my pens and see the gifts lovingly placed along parched paths. There will be too many gifts to name them all, much less draw them all. But I will catch as many as I’m able, whispering thank you for each of them.
Ann Voskamp speaks of having her “hunt pen in hand”. I am holding mine firmly as I close out 2019 and jump into 2020. This pen with eyes may also have wings…I will need both for the year ahead!
In the middle of November I started to draw what was happening in my head. Well, it wasn’t only in my head. Some of the ideas that flutter around in my head come through my hands, or at least get started to see if they want to be fully birthed. Not all of the ideas mind you. My brain is a veritable factory of creative ideas which one person cannot possibly bring into being. I must be choosy.
I do love to have the time to sit and ponder each of them, like rolling a river pebble over in my fingers gazing at all sides and wondering if I have what that particular idea requires, or whether it should wait a while or perhaps be tossed back into the vast idea pond. Spinning wool is a lovely place to ponder and mull and work through the idea backlog.
The difficulty is that I’m forever attaching a weighty criteria to the ideas. Is this meaningful enough? Does it have an artistic flair? Is it original? Or is it someone else’s idea that I think I can do my version of? Will I have to purchase other tools or items to make this? How much time will be involved? Is it do-able within the framework of my life? Will I have to leave hearth and home for a week in order to see this idea come to fruition?
The heaviest weight I put on creating something is that big word Art with a capital A. I have an ongoing love-hate relationship with this word and for many years have preferred to remove the consideration of whether I’m producing Art, off the table. I really just want to be delighted, and if what I’m making delights me, then it shouldn’t matter whether it is deemed Art by me or by anyone else.
So I sit there at my wheel, or stand twirling a spindle, enrapt in delight as I do so, and I’m thinking of all these other things I “should” be devoting my time to. I kept drawing the little illustrations off and on over the past few weeks in hopes of getting somewhere. It dawned on me recently, as it has done numerous times before, that what I’m holding in my hands is more often than not, THE THING I’m to be doing. Whew. Such freedom and Joy! Just look at the final drawing in my little story and that happy smile on the idea bulb’s face! “Finally! She’s got it!”
Here in the midst of our busy holiday making, I hope you can find some time to be delighted. It doesn’t matter if you are making world-changing Art, or just spinning some fluff into string. Stay in the de-Light as long as you can, eschewing those pesky thoughts that you should surely be doing something else more weighty and monumental. Pay attention to what you find yourself paying attention to (Jessica Abel’s thoughts here).
Deep dive into what’s right there in your hands to make and bring to life. It is likely the Big Idea 💡 you’ve been after all along.❤️
Whether I like it or not, life has a set-in-stone structure to it. We must sleep, eat, get dressed, keep our homes relatively clean, work, keep up the cars and yards, spend time with family and friends, care for one another and perhaps numerous other things depending on your particular needs and lifestyle. I am forever finding great comfort in this structure or railing against it with all I’ve got.
The warp strings on a loom speak to me of this ongoing structure in my life. Once a loom is warped, be it a floor loom, rigid heddle loom or a small frame loom, it doesn’t change throughout the entirety of the weaving. With the exception of supplemental warps one might add in for effect, typically the warp threads stay put in whatever pattern they were set in the beginning. Such is life, both frustrating and beautiful.
I seem to be a bit obsessed with warps lately. Recent weavings on my Saori floor loom, a rigid heddle and now working tapestry on a smaller loom, I find myself enjoying the regularity and structure of those vertical lines around which to build something lovely. I even caught myself noticing the fences in and around our neighborhood and thinking I could weave something cool in and through the fence slats. Strange perhaps. But cool to think about.
The fascinating bit of all of this is that in weaving, the warp cannot stand alone. Without the weft, it would fall apart and become just string again. In painting you lay colors onto the surface of a piece of paper. This paper, or canvas, holds its structure no matter what you paint on it. But in weaving, the “support” becomes something solid only once you add the colors and textures of the weft. Without the regular and methodical over-under work in and around these established structures, there would be no real substance, no beauty, nothing really to hold. It is the addition of wool, cotton, ribbon, wool locks, sari silks, etc, that holds the warp together in a cohesive work, whether it be for cloth or tapestry.
It is a painfully beautiful thing to watch a life unfold. Whether it’s my own life, or that of loved ones, we are all weaving over and under, in and through established structures of life and living, beliefs and choices, and the inevitable hardships and suffering that come our way. Each of our woven lives are unique and hold a preciousness and beauty to them that we often cannot see at all.
In classic tapestry weaving, one often weaves with the backside facing. I weave with the front facing me so that I can better understand what to weave next and exactly where the yarns need to go. But in life, I only see the backside of the tapestry … it looks like a crazy mish mosh of loose ends.
One day I’ll see it from the front side. For now, I must trust that as I work alongside my Maker in the over-under of daily life, something beautiful is underway. And I can take comfort in the structure of the warp, even though their taut regularity may be maddening at times. They are guidelines, guard rails…a path through… so that I can continue to weave.
It takes 365 days for the earth to make one full trip around the sun. That’s 8,760 hours. Or 525,600 minutes. Or 31,536,000 seconds. Small increments, tiny moments, so many ordinary events which create one revolution.
Birthdays remind me of this. One more turning of the years has been made up of many days and minutes lived. There have been more breathtaking, joy-filled days than I can count. There have also been days of heartbreak, fear, and concern. This is living. This is revolution.
I suppose for both the American and the French, their Revolutions were also preceded by numerous days and moments, small yet not insignificant actions suffered and endured, which turned the wheels of decision, adding strength to what would become historic events. A spinning wheel will likely not bring about such history-making. Nor will spindles of all kinds—Turkish, Russian, Tibetan—create monumental, earth-moving events. But they do remind me that it is in the tiny, inconsequential turning of our minutes that a Revolution is achieved.
There are now 54 such revolutions in my life to date. I am grateful for each and every one of them! I am also a bit wary of those to come…the unknown daily turning and spinning on this beautiful planet. What will this year’s spinning bring? My usual hope is that it would bring good and happy things. But a revolution is taking place in my heart where I am hoping more for strength and grace to meet the moments of the coming days.
As I spin, I watch the lovely light-filled fibers twist into a strong line, which will bear the weight of far more than its substance. The resulting yarn may or may not be called upon to carry heavy loads. But if it is…it’s ready and able. Once it is plied with another strand, it’s strength is even greater. And a chord of three strands is not easily broken.
Sitting here at the end of one year’s revolution and the beginning of another, I see sitting on my desk, an exquisite pile of gorgeous hand spun yarns. Rich colors, varied and textured, have been wrangled into skeins of yarn ready for making into something else. They are not the final result, even though I do think they could be set in a frame and hung on a wall, just to look at and admire in hank form. But they beg to be fashioned into something else…a weaving perhaps, or a knitted garment, or a crocheted piece.
I too am a skein of hand spun yarn. I’ve been and am being spun by Loving Hands which are adding strength even in the twist of my life and daily living. I need not worry about the coming revolutions or how many I and my loved ones have left. He will use what He is spinning for His glory and purposes…and all of it for my good.
Today, on my 54th birthday, I will spin on…creating with my hands in the trust and knowledge that strength and grace are being wrought.
Here we are…again…at the starting gate of a New Year! All the hopes and fears of all the years (or at least those of 2018) seem to gather together in a clump as we look ahead, hoping the New Year brings less difficulty than the one before, and fearing that it might not. The temptation for me is to rally all my best efforts to keep things running smoothly, without wrinkle or wrench. I know by now this is an exercise in futility. Life brings to us each day a panoply of blessings and challenges…both of which I want to be in a position to notice and observe.
The lovely thing about a New Year is this turning of the number, or page, on a new vista of days, weeks and months. It can feel fresh and clean, unfettered by previous months’ busyness, waiting with anticipation for us to walk through it, holding promise and positive outcomes almost as carrots to lure us into the days ahead. I love this fresh feeling and the excitement of good things to come. Yet I also know that 2019 may very well hold some difficult, painful and confusing things for me as well. I neither want to blindly march into the year with a pasted grin on my face, nor do I want to wallow in future castastrophising (dreaming up all manner of trials and tribulations that may or may not happen). It would seem that “Que sera sera” might be a good tack to take…whatever will be, will be. Though helpful in some ways, this forward thinking version of “It is what it is”, doesn’t carry me through a New Year in the way I wish to experience it.
What I need this coming year, and what I intend to uphold as often as I am able to do so (no goal setting or resolution here), is to meet the New Year moment by moment by Noticing and Observing. To Notice is to say “oh look here at this little (or big) thing”. To Observe is to pick it up and to ask questions like “I wonder how it got here?” or “look at the colors within” or “see how the shape is so lovely” or “does it have a purpose or is it simply a gift to enjoy?” and so on. Though I have had a good many years of Noticing and Observing, I still need this practice of meeting each new day with space to consider the small moments of my life. A sketchbook is a wonderful tool for Noticing and Observing.
On the 20th of December 2018, I began a new sketchbook which was given to me by a dear friend. To be sure I had not finished the 2 or 3 other sketchbooks I have going, but I had been wanting a book of days, one without a spiral in the middle, one in which to drawcument the days as I notice and observe them. It was also to be an anchor for me as I faced the craziness of the holidays. It has indeed been that anchor.
It is perhaps not a proper watercolor sketchbook, as in having the precise paper on which watercolor shines. But I love the almost cloth-like feel of this paper, and the handmade look of it with fabric cover and twine stitching. It is made by Anthropologie and I do hope they are still making these when I finish this one. Another will surely be in order. The very best thing is that my favorite markers, both fat and thin ones, do not bleed through the other side, thus allowing me to draw on all sides of the woven pages.
To Notice & Observe, is like dancing in puddles. When life gives us rainy days, as it has in abundance here in central North Carolina, it is best to notice where the puddles are and dance in them. Drawing and painting are perfect puddle activities, as are any other creative endeavors. Knitting, spinning, weaving and the like are all beautiful ways to notice what’s going on in your life and to observe it from a place of beauty. Writing is also excellent…I write every morning all the noticings and observations of both my interior and exterior worlds.
There is something amazing that happens when we Notice & Observe. Somehow, our hearts are lightened a bit. Perhaps it is in the lines and colors of pen, paint and wool that weaves into our eyes a renewed palette for the day. We also receive insight when we Notice & Observe. There is a direct connection between the lines on the page, the strands of yarn and wool, to our minds and hearts. We receive hope, clarity, lessened anxiety and so much more in the act of making something with our hands. I look forward to this blessing today and on through the New Year. I wish it for you as well.
Happy New Year to you!
May it be filled with many moments to Notice & Observe!
The act and experience of drawing is so much more than what happens between the eyes and hand. To put pen to paper while looking at something in front of you is often a portal to all the other senses and even to discoveries.
Take the above drawing for instance. While I drew my sunroom studio space, I realized something that has helped me tremendously with my ongoing angst about having so many different creative loves to which I apply my hands. I realized that I have a Preschool Studio. Here in this room where I love to make stuff, I have Stations. There is a drawing station, a spinning station, a station for pondering, writing and knitting. I like this. A lot. My ever present inner Artist Child is delighted to have these spaces ready and available when inspiration strikes. Of course, I also have Stations for drawing and making all over the house as well as outside too! The cool thing is that it was while I was drawing, that this revelation occurred to me. It is certainly not the first time it has happened.
Another thing that happens when I draw is a heightened awareness of Love for the subject I’m drawing. As I drew my hard-at-work youngest daughter, I had this overwhelming sense of love for her as my pen “caressed” the contours of her lovely self. Even with inanimate objects, I become aware of an adoration for the shape of the coffee mug, the curve of contours, the juxtaposition of geometric line with organic shapes, the color variations in every object whether shadowed or lighted. These “things” become something more in the drawing of them…simple gifts of a beautiful life.
But the crazy thing about drawing is an almost eerie sense of being alive. Not in a bad way at all! As I draw, something inside throttles down. I begin to hear the tick tock of a clock, or the hum of our fridge, or birds singing outside…stuff that rarely gets attention in the hustle and bustle of everyday living. It’s as if I’m tuning into a frequency that is always going on, but that requires my pen on the paper in lines and colors in order to hear it.
There are certainly other ways to tune in to this delightful behind-the-scenes orchestra, but it is something I relish as I draw. My desire is to “tune in” often during this next couple of weeks. I need it desperately in the hubbub of the holiday shuffle.
Perhaps you too can find a moment or two to draw – to see, feel, and enjoy the small things in your life. In drawing them, you will likely find more than meets your eye. <3