The Power of Play – Take 2

After the previous post went out, it occurred to me that I didn’t exactly get around to writing about how creative play has a subtle power to change, move, ignite and inspire us to more creativity. I became enamored with my new word SWOODLE, and well, that was that. I kept on swoodling in my sketchbook (swishing paint and doodling with pens, markers, and pencils) through last week, and lo and behold… I began to weave a little tapestry.

That last statement might not mean much to you. Might seem a bit like “duh”…of course you would Jen! But here’s the beauty (and power) of it all – I had been, prior to playing in my sketchbook, in a creative slough. Now there’s a word for you: slough. Pronounced sloo.

The word slough has two listed meanings. 1. Swamp. 2. A situation characterized by lack of progress or inactivity. Both are apt to describe how I was feeling as an artist in the “middle” of her life. I cannot say that playing in my sketchbook has completely pulled me out of this swampy bog and set me on a sparkling new path. But I can say that swoodling in the swamp sparks something within me akin to embers glowing and cool spring breezes. The very unstructured, unabashed, free of restraints, trying-new-things playfulness shifted something in my brain, enabling it to open to so many ideas for small tapestries. The even greater benefit of it is less in the plethora of ideas (which I often seem to have aplenty, bordering on too many!) but rather in a “why not” attitude heavily doused with “let’s just see what happens if…”

Here’s a little secret…shhh…I might chicken out before I type it here for you…there’s a little voice inside my head that says I’d really like to be a tapestry weaver. <gasp> When I watch videos about the Australian Tapestry Workshop or the French Tapestry tradition or Dovecot studios in Scotland…I begin to slobber. Oh wait, let me say rather…I start to swoon. There it is again…Swoodle, Swamp, and Swoon. If you find yourself in a Swamp, Swoodle for a while and soon you will Swoon into action! Ha! OK…I’m digressing again!

What I want to leave you with is the idea that creative play, the kind that makes you feel all giddy inside, or feel like you want to skip down the sidewalk or draw with chalk in the driveway…it will do something in you. It can unlock what has been stowed away for a while, namely a child-like sense of wonder. I want to maintain that wonder as I weave tapestries…to keep weaving images that my inner serious-minded-artist says are juvenile and childish. I want to weave with all kinds of fibers instead of restricting myself to only one type of yarn. I want to weave lots of luscious colors instead of forcing myself to use “grown-up” colors, whatever that means. I want to weave colorful shapes and not feel pressure to always have form and shadow. I want to just place colors in between warp threads and watch a picture grow. Like a garden. Perhaps that is actually what I want to be when I grow up…a Yarn Gardener. Spinning wool into yarn and Weaving yarn into pictures. Maybe at my age it isn’t too late! Maybe, just maybe I could do that.

I think I already am. 😃 At least I’m at the beginning of that journey. I lose my way sometimes. Life has a way of weighing in and swamping me. My sketchbook is a life raft…a place to hang onto and swoodle whatever I want with no rules, no pressure, no drama or trauma. Just play. It’s powerful.

*******

Hey! Did I also mention that one of the first things I did in between sketching sessions, was to pick up a spindle and start spinning bright colorful wool? Yep. Toys are so fun…twiddling a whirly-gig that makes wool become yarn is just way too fun! One thing leads to another and to another. Keeping it fun and free!

My Tea Garden

I am a tea drinker. Yes, coffee in the morning…but tea the rest of the day. Hot tea, even in summer. But I do love brewing tea and then pouring it over ice on especially hot days. All kinds of teas…dark and caffeinated to light herbal teas, green teas with a touch of lemon or ginger, peppermint…well, it’s all delicious!

Except for Lapsong Souchong…nope…don’t like that stuff…tastes like a mouthful of smoke. Blech.

But I digress…what I’m so crazy excited about is my newly established Back Deck Tea Garden! I’ve been dreaming of it for a while now, got a book about how to start one and what kinds of plants would yield what kinds of teas. Of course, doodling ideas in my sketchbook was a must to work out what I might like to start with, what I already have on hand, and how it might grow right there on my deck.

You see…I’m not very much of a gardener. Oh I have all kinds of grand visions of gardens and I can plant them in the ground. But then I say to the little plants “Grow and Flourish” and I walk away. If I don’t see them, I tend to forget they need watering and tending. Come mid-summer they are wilting and gasping for water. But if plants are on the deck, right where I can see them out my kitchen window, I tend to them much better.

So here’s my little Tea Garden in its infancy. Of course, I have flowers in and around the herbs. Some of the flowers, such as Bee Balm (which is actually Bergamot!) and Tufted Violets were listed in my Tea Book as lovely plants from which to harvest flowers and leaves for tea! Planted in and among the other flowers I have lavender, rosemary, peppermint, basil, another kind of mint, lemon balm and I hope to have some chamomile I’m trying to grow from seed. A good start I think!

I’m dreaming of sipping freshly made teas from my little garden all summer and then drying them for fall and winter tea. I’m also planning on lots of drawing and sketches from the flourishing plants!

Now to go water them and whisper to them to grow, grow, grow!

Taking Hold of A Line

Before Lent began, a dear friend and I decided to walk through Lent with a sketchbook in our hands. This isn’t radically different from my normal everyday practice, but I had been sporadic with sketching, especially as a long, rainy & cold winter had all but sapped the color from my eyes.

The benefit of seasons, both in nature and the church calendar, is that they afford us an opportunity for change. I know I was parched for the nourishment of my sketchbook, but I don’t think I realized just how much so. Committing to a daily drawing (or two:) in a sketchbook, actively seeking something of note either mundane or magical, sets in motion a rumbling akin to Springtime…a quiet steady blowing on near-to-dying embers.

At first, weeks ago, I drew from my imagination, interior conversations, fantastical landscapes filled with color which I long to walk in. I also drew happenings, actual walks around Salem Lake and elsewhere, silliness with my daughters, the college world that is in my home.

For the first couple of weeks it was enough to just make one drawing, or two each day. Now I am filling page after page and my head is filled with far more drawings I don’t have the time for each day but am planning to sketch them soon! Photos are good for this…snap a photo and draw later from that if I’m unable to draw from life.

I’ve certainly experienced this before, but it is a wonder and a delight to pick up my pen and feel the taking hold of a line. Then soon having that line wrap itself around me and pull me along showing me all the things, places, events I can draw in my sketchbook! Drawings beget drawings…always! Ahhh… (contented sigh😊)

I have realized in writing this post, that I have far more I want to share with you through the lens of my sketchbook. So I will do so in shorter posts in the upcoming days. There are too many sketches to cram into one blog post! And I’m hearing my sketchbook call out to me just now as the blooming pear trees in my neighborhood are bursting like popcorn in a kettle!

Must go draw…but I’ll be back to share the findings!💖

For Now

I say this quite frequently — For now, this will be fine. For now, this is good. I’m ok with it this way, for now. Two little words that carry a ton of meaning.

FOR. There is purpose wrapped up in these three letters. Intention, will, focus and offering. This is FOR you. I do this FOR others, FOR myself, FOR my children. What is all this FOR? It is FOR our community, our family, our health, our bank account, our future well-being. Hopes, wishes, goals and purposefulness are all there in this small word.

NOW. Equally small, yet holding a universe, this word brings me in sharp focus into a moment I can actually touch and rest in. NOW is a time for us to really live our lives. NOW is the present which holds all our past and future. NOW we get to fully live, but we often squander it with worry about the future or regret over the past. NOW sweeps it all clean and says, “Here…come sit a spell in this chair, with this life, just as it is.“

I got a new spinning wheel! I can’t believe I now have a beautiful Ashford Traditional Wheel! I had been wanting one for a while…the shape of it, really, is what I loved, and the idea of painting another wheel seemed to suit the lovely shape so well.

As I spin on this new-to-me wheel and get to know its excellent properties (so different from my Louet which I promptly painted when I got it four years ago:), I find myself hesitant to paint it just yet. I say to myself and to my family who asks if I’m going to paint it…Yes, probably, someday…but for now I’ll leave it as it is.

I have pulled out a ton of scrap fabrics with the idea to make a quilt. I have laundered and ironed all the oddly shaped fabrics and have begun to cut squares wondering why in the world I think I need a quilt?! To what end is all this time making a simple scrap quilt going to lead me? What will it accomplish? Catching myself getting all spun up in future-tripping concerns, I happily concede that for now, it will be good to make a quilt.

I am learning more and more the goodness of living in the present moment. An overused phrase, it is under-used in our day-to-day practice. To be content for now, with things as they are is a wonder and joy to sink into. Even if NOW is difficult or painful…living for now strips the extra baggage and burden of what if? And why did? To live for now brings a sense of resting in what has been provided, releasing the grasping of attainment and achievement, turning from past hurts and regrets to accepting where the day has landed and living full into it, feet on the ground (or the treadles) and working with the fabric of the day for its own sake.

Letting life be for now doesn’t mean I won’t paint the wheel in future. Taking a detour into fabrics for now won’t mean that I have to make this my new main artistic medium. Who knows what might come of it? That isn’t my concern today. My job is to make a space for joy, grace, and presence in all that I am given just as it is in this moment.

For Now…I am alive.

For Now…I am content.

For Now…there is grace and mercy in abundance whether the spinning wheel gets painted or a quilt gets made…or not.

**As always, I enjoy your thoughts and comments here. Feel free to dialogue about this and how it strikes you, for now. 🙂

Marisol & Me

Oh Marisol, Marisol…

Your given name says it all-

Merry-go-rounds and parisols,

Wide-eyed adventures, stories untold.

***

Yet hearth and home, heather and loam,

They call you back, n’er to roam.

Content to spin yarns of shalom

And scatter joy here in my home.

***

Let us whirl our wool and sparkled light

Sipping tea, knitting at night.

But dream we will of sea and kite,

Of picnic fields, wildflowered delight!

***

What shall we say, Marisol and me?

Our capes are ready, hearts of glee.

If we stay or go, this we see…

Joy is here ‘neath the myrtle tree.

*****

-jpe 

April 19, 2020

Have you ever made something and felt so content, so full of delight, that you thought for a moment you might never need to make anything else ever again? That is precisely how I felt as I finished knitting this little mouse. The pattern is named Marisol the Mouse, and being smitten with that name and also with the shape of this mouse, I set about to bring one to life for my own.

The pattern is perfect, offering options for a bonnet or a beret. The only modification I made in the body of the mouse was to have two thicknesses for the ears so as to have the outer gray behind the inner pink. Making the bonnet into a cape was simple enough by picking up stitches along the neck edge and knitting down to the length I wanted, increasing on a few rounds to allow the cape to flair a bit.

Of course, by this time, Marisol was chattering away with me about her cape colors and I allowed her to choose from my handspun yarn stash. She has good taste as she chose a most delicious green multi with an ever so slight hint of sparkle. Thus will surely be fetching in the sunlight as she gathers nettles for tea and gleans wool along the hedgerows.

I thought I was finished, but she continued on about how a proper field mouse needs a gathering basket for her wool to be carried in and oh she simply must have a pair of knitting needles and wouldn’t those yellow-tipped ones be just the thing?

Her wide eyes fell upon the recently crocheted wee baskets I had made out of spun coffee-filters (a truly absorbing and enchanting way to make paper yarn!) and oh my she had a time choosing which one would be the perfect size and color for her. In the end she chose the brown one for it had flecks of green and pink and she felt the natural color was a more sensible thing for her outdoor walks. I agreed with her, of course, for who would contradict so delightful a mouse?

In my utter delight with having such an adorable and lovable creature to add to my menagerie of knitted wee beings, a poem bubbled up with the frothy giggles and sighs. I was completely taken with her and as I wrote about her, I realized I was also writing about me. I could see in her what I feel so keenly these days…a wide-eyed desire for adventure, to roam around freely, to be going hither and yon gathering pretties in a basket. I too dream of the ocean and flying kites. My infrequent trips to a grocery store with scanty shelves whilst wearing a mask is not quite the adventure I had in mind.

Yet somehow, in writing about Marisol, I found that I too love spinning yarns of peace, whether stories or actual wool. I too am content to scatter joy at home, sip tea and knit at night. I am in many ways loving the freedom to do just that. If I am able to stay in the present moment and not worry about future possibilities, then I am truly content and grateful, along with Marisol, for this home under the myrtle tree. (Which we do, by the way, have growing tall right at our front door.:)

So you see friends, in the making of a wee little thing, seemingly inconsequential in the whole scheme of this tops-turvy world, there can be moments of realization, of gathering joy to scatter around. Truly we wait in eagerness with our capes ready to dash out the door the minute “they” say GO! In the meantime I pray you are finding joy under your myrtle trees, with Marisol and Me. : D

Tomorrow

More than ever before, we need to be making things. This is not merely to while-away the time or to keep our minds off of all the sad news and the what-will-happens. There is an inherent belief in creating something that says, if only in a small way, “Tomorrow will come. A new day will rise.”

We cast on a knitting project and in so doing is the stalwart belief that I desire to and will finish this sweater or hat or pair of socks in the future!

We draw in our sketchbooks to capture a small bit of something that caught our eye today so that we can remember it tomorrow.

We spin wool into yarn which is in itself a ball of possibilities either for you or for someone else to make into a thing of beauty another day.

We begin a tapestry weaving or some cloth knowing that it will require us to keep weaving tomorrow and the next day and perhaps even the next.

(Ok, so this isn’t a loaf of bread. I DID bake bread yesterday but I didn’t take a photo of it. I think this looks like a most delicious loaf, don’t you? :D)

We bake bread with the knowledge that it will be enjoyed for at least a day, maybe two or three.

Just as planting vegetables and flowers casts our net into an unforesee-able future…so too does penning a poem, molding clay, writing a song. As Julia Cameron notes in her book The Artist’s Way, creative people are like equestrians in an obstacle course. The rider must throw his or her heart over the fence in order to land on the other side. This is precisely what we are doing as we daily set our hands to making something.

Whether it is actually planting a garden, or baking bread, or beginning a large oil painting, I hope that you will make time to create something. For this will pull our hearts forward as we endure our current worldwide situation. If anxiety prevents you from that large commissioned piece, then make something small and manageable. Try a new way of creating like origami or simple watercolor doodles. You will discover your heart is a bit lighter as we leap over this huge fence.

Grace and peace to you all this Easter weekend and beyond!❤️

Change

There is something about our current state of affairs that feels like a suspension, hiatus, time-out, or an extended stay-cation. It’s as if the world has been put on hold and we are hovering in place, holding our breath, until we have made it over the bridge, or until we are told we can come up for air.

I’ve also thought of these days as being on a phone call in which I’ve been placed on hold, or a VCR tape which has been paused. I imagine that the tape is being stretched as it waits in suspension until it can roll again. None of these images of our present situation adequately describe what’s happening .

It may be nearer the mark to use Tolkien’s definition of adventure versus quest. We are decidedly not on an adventure, where we will return to things as they were when we left them. When this is all over, we will be changed. The earth is already changing, and we humans will live and think of our lives differently than before. We have certainly not gone anywhere as an adventure would call us to do. Rather we are on a quest, one in which we are pinned in place, endeavoring to do our part in a worldwide effort to stay home and stay well. The effort to do this is far greater and more costly than the freedom to go on grand adventures. Yet it remains true that we will not land on the other side of this the same. We are being changed. I feel it in my bones.

Shifts in life often yield changes in art making. I have found some difficulty in sticking to drawing a tree every day. The drawings I make are decidedly simple and shape oriented, as if I’m designing for a weaving or a stitched fabric piece. Despite being in love with oil pastels , I’m wanting to let go of the must-draw-a-tree-every-day and just draw as I like, or weave or stitch.

It is likely that in letting go of having to draw a tree daily, that I will continue drawing trees. This was true before I began the quest on January 23rd. Trees are ever a fascination and will always be. My hope is to maintain this focused attention to their physical details, personality and their likenesses to me…or the other way around.

We do not know yet what changes will remain with us once we have been allowed to leave home, roam freely again, breathe and press play. That too will likely bring a shift in creative focus and I’ll want to follow whatever is next. For me, merely the change in seasons always brings changes in mediums and color choices. It will be interesting to see how we are all led to create once the current crisis is in our rear-view mirror.

Are you sensing a shift or change in your creative work? Do the seasons affect you in this way? Is the current quest we are all on changing what you create or how you approach your work as an artist/maker? I would love to know!💖 Most of all, I hope you each are well and safe and able to receive whatever this time is bringing your hands to create, no matter how simple or seemingly inane it may feel. Just keep creating, keep making things, writing poems and stories, shaping clay, painting and drawing pictures, trees or not. It will steady us and see us through to the other side.🙏💖

Noticing

It seems to me that one of the chief benefits of drawing is to allow us to really notice what’s right in front of us. I’ve been walking the sidewalks of our neighborhood, almost daily, for the past 17 years and I discover new things all the time.

There are certainly days when I’m hunkered down, either due to the weather or to so much going on in my head, and I’m speed walking through the circuitous path of cement ribbons. On most days I’m able to look around, to marvel at the seasons changing and all that this evolving miracle brings.

This spring, I’ve noticed the trees more acutely. Drawing does this…particularly when one has narrowed their focus to a certain subject to draw for an entire year, one notices more than usual. Or perhaps it is noticing what one knew to be true but had forgotten one knew it.😂

As Spring blazes through the neighborhood, I cannot help but notice the Cherry trees! Gorgeous, pom-pom shaped blooms hanging from limbs everywhere! I feel as if I’m walking through a fireworks display…explosions of color everywhere, some shooting out in every direction, some swirling in twists and curves (the red buds!) , and others cascading down, as if blooms were tossed up in the air and then fall to the ground. And on windy days…the most delectable kind of snowfall, pale petals floating down, gathering along street edges, begging to be walked through.

By the end of my walk I can scarcely contain myself…it’s as if joy came showering down on me as I walked! I feel refreshed and renewed even in the midst of this strange time. It reminds me of a quote by playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht—

“Everyone chases after happiness, not noticing that happiness is right at their heels.”

This daily practice of drawing, is my way of noticing the happiness that is right under my feet. Whether I’m drawing what I’ve seen on a walk, or something out of my imagination, happiness fills the page in front of me, claps two hands on my face and kisses my cheek, saying, “All will be well!”

I suppose there is a way to notice without drawing. Most of the time I only realize the fullness of what is at my heels as I draw. Something to do with seeing and putting pen to paper. I imagine writers and poets have this sight too, as they craft words to show us what they see.

Only $12 on ETSY! Immediate download.

I draw primarily so that I myself can see. In sharing with you what I’m seeing at my heels, I hope that you too might sketch a bit in order to really see what happiness may be right there at your feet, despite how upside down the world seems right now. To encourage you in this wondrous practice of daily drawing what is at your feet, consider my ebook of twelve lessons filled with instruction and encouragement! For the price of just a few cups of coffee, you may just stumble upon a new way of seeing beauty in your life!🙏💖

Be A Tree

More than ever before, I find myself wanting to be like the trees I am drawing. They stand tall, firmly rooted no matter the ever-changing weather, bending however needed to the passing winds and storms, yet always growing, even blooming, despite their losses.

Yes. I’d like to be a tree.

But my inner life belies this stalwart image of rootedness. I can feel so unsettled, fearful, and confused amid the recent viral storm. I find myself reaching out for branches to hang onto as the winds blow.

When we consider trees, we often think of them in terms of seasons. Trees grow and change with each passing season. They add a new ring of strength around their trunks each year. And it is this that I hang onto as I think of what our current situation is requiring of us…this is a season, and it too shall pass.

Winter will clock over to Spring here very soon. Then Spring into Summer. We hope, along with Summer, that this virus will cease spreading, and that life can return to what we had thought was “normal”. We are all, in varying degrees, experiencing shock and grief over the loss of our normal everyday. But it is a season, much like Lent, and it will pass.

Yet also like Lent…we will not be the same after this season of fasting and difficulty. It remains to be seen just how different the fabric of our individual and collective lives will be once this virus has made its way through the world. We will look around at the devastation of not only lives, but also livelihoods, and a new normal will be established. The seasons will continue to come and go. There will be a lasting impact on how we view and live our lives from here on.

The wounded trees I draw have this in common: life continues to throb and burst forth from gaping loss. How this is, I do not know. But I want to be like these trees. I want that for you as well as for me. I hope to look around one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, and see all of us standing tall or perhaps a bit bent, with our various wounds and scars from battling the virus, yet growing, perhaps even thriving and blossoming into something completely unexpected.

I don’t know how this will happen, but it is our hope as we walk this Lenten pilgrimage through a forest of difficulty and uncertainty. The Master Arborist walks among us and with us through every glade and glen, every season and storm.

In this Forest I will gladly be a tree, come what may.

Rooted

“I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted, they travel about as far as we do.” – John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist.

Though I may be hard pressed to say that every tree I see and draw is completely content (as of course, we embue them with having feelings:) … I do have a sense that no matter their state, the trees exude a rootedness, dare I say confidence, in where they are and what they have endured.

Same tree as above…but this is its good side.

Even the tree at the entrance to our neighborhood stands tall and proud, waving the beautifully brittle leaves of last year which have hung on through the winter. This tree has a large open wound on one side that makes you wince. But from the other side, you would never know this wound is there. Perhaps this lack of discontent, as Muir notes, is due precisely to the gripped rootedness which pulls its life force from the earth and refuses to give up no matter what it has lost.

I see so many trees in and around our neighborhood which have suffered loss and yet still thrive. If you’ve been following my 365 day journey of drawing a tree a day, you will have seen numerous trees in various states of injury. There are many more to draw and I think this is becoming a fascination…the compelling reality that no matter how trimmed, cut off, torn in two or broken a tree is, there is still life pulsing through its veins and proclaiming, “I am here!”

What we do not see, and therefore I do not draw, is the extensive root system of any given tree. To be sure, I often see and draw the one or two roots which erosion has exposed. But beneath the soil, reaching far deeper and wider than we fathom, a massive subway system grounds the tree in its place and brings it the energy and nutrients it needs to survive and flourish.

I often fail to recognize this rootedness in my own life. But when I see it, I marvel at the connectedness to so many people, to a community, a church family, creative friends, and to my own immediate and extended family. I am filled with gratitude for the rich soil of faith which upholds it all and gives vitality and strength no matter the evident brokenness above ground.

Today as I draw, I’ll sink into my own roots a bit more, and lift up branch-like arms and hands in gratitude for all that holds me fast. 💖