Focus

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.

New Year Eyes

”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!

Attention

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.❤️

Notice & Observe

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!

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

More Than Meets the Eye

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

Tingle

Our neck of the woods received a wallop of snow last weekend! As if the excitement and delight of SNOW isn’t enough, I’ve also been sensing a familiar tingle, a bit more than I have in previous weeks. It began with sketches showing up in my writing journal. The tingle continued and is now waking me up in the early morning hours. This tingling sensation of wanting to draw  could be described as an itch to make marks, or an overwhelming desire to record the world around me, or to create the fanciful world inside my head, translating it on paper in lines and colors. Much of the time I draw because it is simply in me to draw. But when the Tingle starts happening, I know to take a deep breath and grab hold of whatever drawing tool (or tools) strikes my fancy for the ride!

Here’s how it goes:

* Tingle*

Thoughts of Crayon, Pen, Thick lines, Thin ones

Splashes of Watercolor

*Tingle * Tingle *

Pull out a Danny Gregory book (in this case The Creative License)

Marvel at the drawings. Read only a little…

cuz I gotta go DRAW!!!

*Tingle * Tingle * Tingle *

Draw what it looks like in my head to be drawing…

on the floor

big sketchbook open

crayons, paint, pens

Draw the Tingle, draw what’s in front of me, beside me, and in my head

Aaaaahhhhh…..

ensconced

enveloped

enraptured

Thoughts swirl

I’m thoroughly engrossed

Oh I like that line

and where it doesn’t meet

What a lovely color

and look at that oozle and wazzle!

And shouldn’t i sell this

or develop it into a picture book…

ERRRR <buzzer noise>

Stop right there. THAT is what kills it for me. I just want to draw without ANY thought as to selling. Not now at least. Please Go Away. I just want to stay here on the floor in this delicious frivolity of being an artist, a sketcher, a drawer, a picture maker. Just play.

*Tingle * Tingle * Tingle * Tingle….

And that is where I’m going to camp out for a while… drawing whatever comes into my head or sits in front of me.

Just cuz.

Cuz I gotta draw!

*Tingle*

I Wish…

I wish I could paint or stitch for you the warm light streaming in our home this morning. Coming downstairs is often an awakening experience as we receive such lovely light through the eastern side of our windowed home. It was glowing through the shades, an autumn sunlight, warm and golden and a touch muted but only in color, not in brilliance.

I wish I could paint or stitch for you the day we spent at Price Park for my birthday this July. I sat there with my family by a quietly gurgling stream and sunlight danced all around us. I just took pictures. And made a sketch or two. No color. So amazing and overwhelming the beauty dripping from the trees that I knew any attempts at painting it would fall oh so short.

I wish I could paint or stitch for you the skies we have been seeing here up on Silver Dapple Lane. Nearly each evening, the canvas in the sky captivates with frolicking clouds, swooshes of color, and serene swipes of muted tones.

I wish I could paint or stitch for you the moon as I saw it a year ago, wrapped in a gauzy shawl, glowing through deep values of purple and blue night. I see it also in the daytime, like a small patch of lightly felted wool pulled and perched in the expanse of azure overhead.

I wish I could sail on a river of crystallite, into a sea of blue…just like Winken and Blinken and Nod. I wish I could tell you stitch by stitch a story of how this image runs through my life…childhood to middle age and everywhere in-between.

As an artist, I am trying to make wishes come true. To employ the magic of paper and pastel, fabric and thread, to tell you what I want to share with you. It all catches me by the throat and I want so much to inhabit these memories again and again, stroke by stroke, stitch by stitch, layer after layer of color and fabric. I scarcely want the making of a painting to end, for in doing so, I feel I must move on. In stitching I can hang out there a bit longer and lean into the story, the wish, the magic.

I wish I could stay longer in writing, painting, stitching. But I must away…daily living calls. I know I’ll see beautiful trees dripping with the first light of September. I’ll look for the moon suspended in the sky reflecting a light that is not his own, but rather is borrowed from a grand and glorious place. And I’ll walk in the light of the golden Sun as I run errands, unload groceries, and do laundry. In so doing, wishes of another kind are coming true as well!

Where the Light Gets In

I sit here on our back deck marveling at the sunrise. Light creeps into the neighborhood like fingers finding their way through the maze of cars, bushes, mailboxes, trees and houses. Patches of light cover yards and streets like picnic blankets. Golden shafts blaze down and through shrubbery like kids playing tag or hide and seek. Only they would certainly be found by friends if they glowed as the morning sun does here in my back yard.

Already, our yard is showing the signs of high summer – the variety of spring greens have settled into their darker more homogenous hues. A few brown patches where summer heat is sapping the life, are beginning to show here and there.

Yet I am dazzled by this trio of bushes – two red tips and a butterly bush. Right down at the base of these bushes lies the most gorgeous colors. Golden fingers illumine a near-black green dancing beside the pink and burgundy of pine straw. Turquoise, sap green, yellow green is interrupted by these shafts of pure gold. I feel dizzy gazing at this gift of a moment, as if I’ve drunk too much wine. Yet my head and heart are clear as a bell. God is here, reaching out to me in this quiet space of morning light.

I am needing this desperately. Time to drink in the wine of God’s beauty and love for me. I feel that I’ve been living and making art for a long time somewhat disconnected from this quiet center where I can just be. I’ve been making, and stitching, and painting without getting still and quiet enough to connect to where it all comes from. No wonder I’ve been feeling stretched thin like the frantic making is a bit dry and perhaps singed around the edges, even if it all appears lovely to others. I’m weary of just cranking it out. I want this – shafts of light to burst in and through the shrubbery of my heart, igniting and illuminating all within.

Yes. This is what I need today and everyday. Rise, O Son, in the yard of my heart. Spread blankets of love for child-like play. Embolden the dry colors that have sat too long without Your golden fingers touching and illuminating. May I sit in stillness long in this summer yard where the Light gets in.

The Gift of Weaving

Over the years of drawing & painting, knitting & crocheting, I have found insight and wisdom for daily living in and through the process of these endeavors. Much like trail markers, they offer direction and assurance for whatever I’m needing at the time, and they guide me in my personal life. Weaving is no exception.

When I draw, I start with a blank page. Nothing is there and it is up to me to begin to make marks on that page, wherever, how-so-ever I like, to create an image. With knitting or crochet it is much the same…only a hook or needles and some yarn to begin making a fabric. Yet when I weave, there is already a structure there. The warp is set in place. There’s really no changing the warp threads for the duration of that weave.

I am finding in my 50’s that weaving speaks so strongly to what I live everyday – the warp has been set. Indeed they were (and are still) matters of choice at one time. Husband, three children + son-in-law, home, faith, teaching, community. These are the vertical threads that set the structure of my life, over and under which I create. Yarns and fibers, threads and textiles of great or little beauty in and of themselves, are woven daily into the warp of my life. I do have choices to make each day, as to the daily weft. Yet some days I’m given a thread to weave that I may not particularly like. Somehow, and this is the glorious bit, somehow it is beautiful in the mix of a lifetime of woven colors.

I can weave with confidence, knowing that somehow all will be well in the end. I can receive the ugly, unwanted-in-the-moment threads or interruptions knowing that they will add their own depth to the overall piece. I can weave tapestries or cloth that display this truth – that the vertical, earth to heaven warp, is just as much a part of the tapestry, as the daily horizontal yarns and textiles. This has been a gift to me recently. I relish each creative outlet I’m granted for the wisdom it offers, and I look forward each day to the colors that will be woven.

Wishing you an Artful Day!

Jennifer

Weaving Gratitude

“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”

― Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy

It seems necessary and good to stop for a moment here in the middle of the #100Day Project and look around me, take stock, and share with you, dear reader, the landscape from here. I am not entirely as Instagram would portray. We know this (or should certainly remember) that behind all the pretty pictures is a human being whose life is likely not so tidy as the feed might suggest. I have recently found myself in a wood of busyness and have stopped to scratch my head and ponder how did I get here and what is the way out?

The month of May always finds me gasping for breath, scrambling to find minutes here and there for making, dreaming of long lazy days to create to my heart’s content. But it is always, every year without fail, a time of intense activity and just plain ole “living”. In scratching my head and pondering how I got so deep in a mire of grumbling about it all, I realized there has been a significant lack of gratitude. Picking up again Ann Voscamp’s devotional of 1,000 Gifts, has served to help center my thoughts on being thankful for even the smallest, perhaps even unwanted, gifts in my days. I’m finding this discipline to be a straight way out of the dark wood of grumbling and resentment.

This is not the kind of thing where you put on those waxy red, smiling lips and go about your day calling every pothole a beautiful thing. No, it is a commitment to getting down on my hands and knees at the edge of the hole and really looking into the lumpy abyss. To ask for sight in order to see. To plead for glimmers of light in and around the edges. To sit with the potholes of daily living, (the things that trip us up, interrupt our plans) and to receive it as a thread, a yarn being added to the warp of my day. It is a discipline of trust. Trusting that what is being woven on the loom of our life will not be for naught. Grateful now, to have set off on this old and familiar road of counting beauties in my day (the pothole variety too!) I’m experiencing a diminished level of grumbling and an ability to just lean into the warp of my life as it is right now. Over and under, around and through. Here in the middle (ish) of May, I can relish the colors, as they mingle on the page, as they interlock on the loom.

The base note of all my grumbles is exactly this: I do not have life on my own terms. Somehow I imagine, that having it on my clock, my design, would grant me a more beautiful, peaceful, and therefore more joyful life. I have only to look back on the previous 50 mark-making explorations to see that despite the busyness, the endless driving, the myriad of things that living requires, beauty was at hand! And though I may not be able to weave as much as I’d like, there have indeed been lovely yarns laid down over the warp of a 52-year old wife and mother who forever fancies that her “true art” is just around the corner.

My ” true art” is actually this – to see beauty in everything. To be thankful for it all. And to lift my hands in gratitude by making things.

There it is. I have found, once again, the “straight way” and can continue into the next 50 of the #100DayProject, weaving marks and colors on the page. And on the loom.