The Ember Phase

We’re now living in the ember phase of Autumn.  Where trees once stood tall as flaming torches, they are now skirted ’round with embers…the last of the burning…an undergrowth aglow. I love this sight:  a blanket of still-fiery leaves marking the circumference of the canopy.  To walk into it must feel like walking in a fairy land, or like being royalty on a jeweled carpet.

It is Fall’s last blaze before it all goes gray to charcoal with only evergreen hints here and there.  I know I will love that too.  But I want to hold onto THIS, this ember-carpet pooled under near-bare trees.  I don’t want it to go…can’t I stay?  Can’t the leaves remain golden?

I know the answer before I’ve even asked.  And it isn’t just leaves I’m thinking of.

Can’t we just stay in glowing years of health and youth?  Can’t my kids stay young and at home?  Can’t my husband and I remain healthy in body, teeth intact, eyesight fair?

The rhythm of the seasons is both lovely and arresting, peaceful and unsettling.  For as each season morphs into the next, life changes, bodies change.  Once flaming stalks of youth and beauty give way to skirted embers and then on to gray lines etched into white.

I’m living the roll of the seasons and at 46 I feel like I can reach one hand back and touch, feel, remember my childhood, my wedding day, my kids’ births; and at the same time I can reach forward to what I know must come.

This standing in a place where the view is so expansive almost hurts.  Yes, there’s beauty abounding to be sure.  But seasons past are to be no more and where I’m standing, though blanketed with jeweled embers, it is fleeting.  It too will morph and change and I don’t know how the gray lines will feel.

All I can do is stand here, NOW, and enjoy the jewels I’m given.

And one thing leads to another…

So one day I’m checking a favorite blog called Deep Space Sparkle. I love seeing her colorful ideas for lesson plans to teach art to children. You might think that since I myself teach art to children, that I would love this site for ideas for my own students. But actually, I love the ideas for myself! It’s fun to play, to jog yourself out of any artistic ruts you might be in, and this site gives plenty of ways to do that!

So the featured artist was someone I had never heard of…Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an Austrian artist whose work is boldly colorful, abstract, and full of patterns. Something about the raucous color, the shapes and patterns, plus the way Patty (the blog author/teacher) translated his work for children, sparked something for me to give it a go.

All of this percolated for a couple of days, as I thought of how I might like to translate some of it for myself…bold colors could be acrylics or oil pastels, wanted to outline in black (not necessarily a Hundertwasser trait), and definitely wanted to scratch through, like Patty had her kids do…but thought it would be fun to try the scratching through oil pastels, much like we did when we were kids, only with crayons.

So…I swooshed around some watercolor in my sketchbook and let it dry. Then I used the vibrant cray-pas oil pastels on top. The final flourish was to scratch through the pastel. I ended up having tons of fun, the images spilling over so fast, I had three of them in the first go! I’ll share more later!

Wandering Thoughts

If you’re unable to follow the “line” of thinking in the above sketch, you’ll have a peak into how my brain works sometimes:  disjointed, disconnected, wandering, incomprehensible.

This page was made on the way back from a weekend in Asheville where I wandered in and out of gallery after gallery, fine arts, fine crafts everywhere!  It was inspiring!

At first.

Then, after about the 5th gallery, I began to feel the ever-familiar smallness.  Like Alice in Wonderland, I began shrinking in my estimation of myself and my art.  Who DO I think I am anyway? Why even try?  What’s it all for?  If I had only stuck with one avenue of artistic expression, I really could’ve done something with my life!  Here’s just a bit of what my life has encompassed since I was a child:  violin, dance, theatre, painting, drawing, sewing, doll-making, knitting, crocheting, pottery, writing.  By the end of the weekend, Alice was wandering around in a daze barely able to move.

But thankfully, Alice drank the magic potion to grow back to normal size.  That magic potion is creativity!  Getting back to sketching, drawing, even just writing on top of a previously painted page was just the ticket I needed to get back in the groove.  And THAT’S when the idea to bring Genevieve to life came marching into my head!

It’s an interesting truth I discover over and over again:  Creativity cures wandering thoughts, straightens out confusing paths, makes sense of what seems like a mess.  I need it EVERY DAY!

Whispering Colors


The sun is warm and vibrant on my skin today…

strong shadows delight the eye.

There is no color…yet.

But I can hear the colors whispering

in the ground and in the branches.

The sun is tickling them.


I sat out on our front stoop this weekend for just a few minutes of peace and quiet.  Sun on one’s face is a delicious feeling.  Strong shadows are evidence that the sun is out in full force.  My tingling skin made me think of how the trees, bulbs, and bushes that bloom must feel this time of year…a stirring or tickling them into a full-on laugh…eventually.

Can’t wait to see nature’s laughter in a few weeks!!

Dare to stay where you are!

There are certainly very difficult, painful moments and seasons in one’s life for which we could understand a flight response to be totally reasonable.  But seriously, people, standing at a stove, stirring, sauteeing, whatevering can manifest that same flight response in me! Same with laundry, dishes, vacuuming, etc.

I am being encouraged by the writings of Henri Nouwen to stand wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, with an attitude of hope and expectancy.  To affirm that wherever I am standing (even in front of a stove, a sink, a washer or dryer), something is growing and evolving in me.  To be present to the moment, believing that this moment, whatever it contains, is THE moment and not just a get-through-it moment.  I’m realizing I’m not a patient person by nature.  I need supernatural help to stop expecting the REAL thing to happen somewhere else and to have assurance that something hidden will manifest itself RIGHT WHERE I AM.  To dare to stay where I am, not in a passive, throw-in-the-towel kind of way, but in a bold, grab-hold-of-the-moment kind of way, would mean a rich and full life indeed!  Even in the midst of cooking!:)

I hope you’ve enjoyed these snippets from this article in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. There’s so much more in the article…you really should read the whole thing!  Here again is today’s snippet in case my scrawl is illegible:

“A waiting person is a patient person.  The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.  Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere.  The moment is empty.  But patient people dare to stay where they are.” (pg. 32)

THIS moment is THE moment

The kind of “waiting” I’m a pro at, is the hand-wringing kind. You know, the oh-golly-i-don’t-know-how-this-is-gonna-turn-out kind, or the i-gotta-do-somethin’-about-this kind, or the it-shouldn’t-be-this-way kind, or the i-gotta-hurry-up-and-get-through-this-so-I-can-get-to-the-REAL-stuff-of-life kind.  When I find myself in this state of “waiting” through life’s moments, I do try to stop it.  But I then typically fall into another kind of “waiting” which is the passive, well-I-can’t-do-anything-about-it kind and I throw my hands up in the air and say, “Oh well! Just grin and bear it.”

The type of “waiting” Henri Nouwen calls us to in his article, Waiting for God, is neither of the above.  Rather it’s a brand of waiting which is full of expectancy, and anticipation…like Mary, the mother of Jesus, who patiently waited for what would unfold in her life even though it all seemed confusing.  Nouwen says that her kind of “waiting” was a “I don’t know what this all means, but I trust that good things will happen” kind of waiting (pg. 33 Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas).

I wonder what it would be like to do loads of laundry, piles of dishes, cook meals, tend to diabetes, grocery shop, and shuttle kids with a “present to the moment” attitude.  To inhabit all those things as if THEY are the REAL moments of life, and not merely things to get through in order to get on with whatever it is I think is real living.   I think John Lennon rephrased this thought as:  “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  Certainly, I can still make plans, but I want to LIVE present in ALL the moments of my life…the menial as well as the stellar, the mundane as well as the exciting, the  insignificant as well as the significant.

Once again, if it’s difficult to read my chicken scratch, here’s today’s snippet from the Nouwen article, Waiting for God:

“Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.  A waiting person is someone who is present to the  moment, who believes that this moment is THE moment.” (pg. 31)

Waiting: Where Real Life Happens

Veteran’s Day found me at home, with all three kids home from school, doing loads of laundry, grocery shopping, baking for a baby shower, cooking dinner and the endless dish washing that ensues.  If I haven’t ever said it plainly here, let it be known this day:  THESE ARE NOT MY FAVORITE THINGS TO DO!!  I’ve been known to say to my friends that cooking and domesticity “makes me grumpy”.  It’s more than that even: it feels futile, unimportant, insignificant.  I’m often in this place of feeling like most of what I do really does not matter or “count” for anything.  Here, here, and here, you’ll read the same droan (shall we call it whining?) of wishing I could be doing SOMETHING ELSE! And not just anything else, but something of value, like painting or drawing.  Yet, even in my art, I can spiral into a place where even that feels unimportant and insignificant. Perhaps you have these places in your life too, where you just don’t see the purpose for it, the reason behind it all, or anything fruitful that comes from your efforts.

I’ve been reading a most lovely book in anticipation of advent.  Watching for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas is where I found the Sylvia Plath poem.  The day after Veteran’s Day I read a piece by Henri Nouwen titled, Waiting for God.  I’ve been so encouraged by his writing.  The above is an image from my written journal (albeit peppered with drawings).  The next few blog posts will be other snippets from this article.  You really should read the entire piece!  The way Nouwen speaks of what it means to wait, makes me realize that it is precisely in those mundane, insignificant moments where real life is happening…something is growing, God is at work.  Yes, and yes~I WILL rest in this.

In case it is difficult to read my scribble on the image above, here’s the snippet from Henri Nouwen’s article:

“…People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait.  They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow…Those who are waiting are waiting very actively.  They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing.  That’s the secret.  The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun.”  -Henri Nouwen

Out of my head…

I cannot explain to you the whys and wherefores of where my creative path takes me.  Sometimes I wonder if I walked around dragging a crayon behind me like Harold, drawing where it is I’m going creatively; the line would look like either a zig-zag, or a criss-cross mess of lines much like the “can of worms” turnpike in Rochester, NY.  Sometimes I feel very settled in what I’m creating (such as the 100 portraits) and I’m focused and single-minded in that trajectory.  But then, something happens…like the end of the school year with its weekly routine of kids at school and work as an art teacher.  Perhaps its a trip to the beach, or a gift of a ukulele, and then my trajectory goes hay wire and the line takes a different turn.  The one thing I know is constant in my creative life is…CHANGE!

So lately, I find myself wanting to draw out of my head.  I have done this a few times before, like here, here, and most recently here. But my usual MO is to observe and draw.  I like having something in front of me to draw, whether it’s a person, a landscape, a corner of my room, or a photograph.  But just before heading to the beach, I wanted to “just draw”…without having something in front of me… to just draw out of my mind’s eye.  I always feel that these drawings end up looking a bit cartoony, but that’s what I’m enjoying about them:  simple, a bit “illustraty” (is that a word?).  What’s interesting in most of these cases, is that they are often drawings of me.  I don’t typically draw myself from photos, indeed I don’t have a ton of reference photos for that.  I have drawn my face from looking at a mirror once or twice before, but that is still “observation”.  These drawings out of my head are an attempt to express a feeling, or an idea, and “reality” is less important.

Another thing that has been at work is an inspiration from the following illustration:

Just before we left for the beach, I picked up a copy of Skirt! magazine (love it for the graphics and such!) and the cover artwork captivated me.  I promptly used it to cover my most recent sketchbook.  I just love this artist’s work…click here to go to her website.  I love the simplicity, the joie de vivre in each line and pattern.  Her art reminds me of Ludwig Bemelmans’ wonderful illustrations in the Madeline books we read and re-read.  So I headed off to the beach with a desire to make some drawings out of my head and this new little jaunt is still with me as our summer family schedule gets underway.  I know I’ll continue with the 100 portraits, but for now, I’ll enjoy “just drawing”.

Sometimes I do worry that I’m “out of my head” literally!  But I ‘spose there’s no  harm in being a bit loony in one’s creative life rather than in real life.  If one tends to live a fairly “straight and narrow” life, then it’s good to have a safe place to be quirky, spazzy, following twists and turns that real life may not allow or support.  Hmmm…now there’s a thought.