Where Are You?

Every day I need to check in. Over the years I’ve wondered if this was a strange thing about myself…this need to check in, to take stock of where I am at a given moment, to breathe in and breathe out, to mark the moment, taking in the sights and scenery around me. Now I’m feeling pretty certain this isn’t strange, it’s really necessary and good. Not just for me, but for us all!

When life gets busy, full to the brim with all good stuff that doesn’t allow much time for checking in, I feel like I need these check-in moments more throughout the day. It’s all too easy to think that just going and going, running through the never ending to-do list without stopping to breathe and mark the moment, is ok for a season. For me, it’s not ok. I’ve got to touch base with where my feet are planted, what my surroundings are at a given moment, breathe into whatever my location is both in body and in spirit. My sketchbook is the best way I know to do this.

Right from the get-go of facing an empty page, I feel myself throttle down a few gears. Empty space. Wow. Just to be able to look at a space that isn’t filled up with stuff for a few moments is helpful. It isn’t scary to face this emptiness…it is welcome and peaceful. I begin to draw what I saw on my walk, or a memory from a day or two ago I don’t want to lose. Slowly, thoughtfully…line and paint working together to drive a stake in the ground as it were:

Here I am, right here, breathing, resting, open and receptive to the peace of this moment.

Sketching in a little book may not be your way of checking in with where you are. It may be sitting with a cup of tea and just resting for a bit, it might be working a few rows of knitting, or perhaps just taking a short walk, considering where your feet are falling and how your heart is beating. However it is you can check in, I hope you are able to carve out a few moments today, tomorrow and ongoing to ask yourself, “Where am I?”

And perhaps you can make a simple sketch of where you are and what’s happening underfoot, pinning and penning a root, an anchor, to steady you for the day ahead.

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

P.S. If you’re in need of any encouragement for this along the way, consider this ebook & video course for inspiration and instruction.

An Everyday Outlet

For Day 6 of #drawtheordinary through Lent, I’m to draw a “wall plug”. I should’ve thought about that wording a bit more because what I meant was “an outlet”.  No matter, plug or outlet, they are both ordinary things. (At least they are to those of us fortunate enough to live in parts of the world where electricity is  available.:)

The crazy thing about all this focusing on the ordinary long enough to draw it in our sketchbooks, is that sparks start flying as we do. Each ordinary sketch of an everyday item ignites a world of thought, delight, and sometimes even…transformation.

I sat for a bit just looking at the simple rectangle with two receptacles noting that there’s a bit of form and shape where the 3 prongs of a plug go in. Then I notice that these three holes look interestingly like a face…or a house – two eyes and a mouth OR two windows and a door. All of a  sudden I’m wondering –

What’s inside this thing?

How in the world does it hold energy or electricity that is accessed merely by placing metal prongs (or one’s fingers) inside?

What magic lies inside those black shapes? Is it a colony of lightening bolts? A family hanging out waiting patiently (or not) for the time when they’ll be put to use?

And so on and so forth…

The crazy…and wonderful…thing about this 20 second reverie is that by simply turning my focus to an ordinary object, my imagination was ignited. It was as if by focusing in on this everyday, typically unnoticed thing in my home, I had plugged into a source of creativity that led me to magical worlds were families of electric bolts live and move and have their being.

This doesn’t happen every single time I draw something. No, sometimes a wall plug is just that…a wall plug. Or outlet. But it is in the focus and attention to things I wouldn’t normally engage with, that creativity is sparked. I can fan it into flame by drawing it and having a bit of fun imagining what these electric bolt people look like. Perhaps they need me to plug my lamp in so they don’t get too bored. Perhaps that little guy up in the right window reached out and zapped me as I sat staring into their home. I dunno. Could be.

What I do know is that I’ll continue peering into ordinary places, drawing what I see there, knowing that sparks may fly in the process. Do jump in on the fun! You’re never too late to join the Lenten drawing party! You can download all the drawing prompts through Lent or simply find ordinary things to draw each day in your sketchbook.

Buen Camino friends!

-Jennifer

*The drawing journey through Lent is blogged HERE, and Instagrammed HERE.

*Inspiration & Instruction for drawing your life is HERE. 🙂

The Verge of Chaos

I sat there in front of a photograph on the wall.

Straddling a cushioned cube at a local hangout spot, I was drawn to draw him. Ruffly shirt, dark eye peering out of stark value shifts. My own eyes tracing the shapes, the connections between shapes, the value shifts, squinting in order to see better.

What shall I use? Emptying my zippered pen/marker/pencil pouch, I didn’t realize I was talking out loud. One of my fellow drawers offered – “Use charcoal! It begs for charcoal!” Yes, I know…but I don’t wanna use charcoal…I feel rebellious.

Now if you met me, your first thought would NOT be – Wow…here’s one rebellious chic! Middle-aged, ordinary mom, dressed in homegrown clothes…quite predictable I’m sure. But today I did not want to choose the predictable. I adore charcoal. It is effortless and magical and allows you to lay in values and adjust transitions on a dime. What I wanted today was ink and water and pen and watercolor. I wanted to see if I could tame something whose primary property is FLOW (charcoal does not flow on its own), and to attempt to wrangle it into something that looked like a portrait. Yes… fountain pen, water brush, watercolor paint.

There was only a moment’s hesitation before setting my fountain pen to paper. Just enough time to choose where to start my line…on the page as well as the face…right here, I think. Then it was off to the races. Well, the tortoise race of following the contours of invisible lines were values meet. Not drawing a nose, just the shapes, where I see them. No pencil first, just gut and years of experience guiding me.

When all was said and done, or at least when I declared that the sketchbook paper couldn’t take anymore paint, that the flow I had been wrangling and taming was on that lovely verge of flowing right off the page, when I sat back and felt that it could stop in this most interesting place…I knew…

…I knew that it was not correct.

I will not go into all the ways this drawing (painting, sketch, whatever you want to call it) does not “match” the photograph, does not exhibit “correct” values or transitions, does not have perfectly measured shapes. What I will say, is that it delights me. This sketch, based purely on itself and not on any standard or pre-existing image, is exactly what I had set out for –

Unpredictable, full of flow and splash and texture, all within certain quasi-delineated bounds that give the overall impression of a face. Yes. This.

This is why I love to draw. As I peer into another’s face, a landscape, a jumble mess on my desk, I get a glimpse of my own self, of my world, of life. I could care less whether anyone else likes it, or think it’s “good” or not. In fact, I want to care less and less what I myself deem it to be.

What I want is to keep on peering into things, drawing them in unpredictable ways, trying new approaches, and so somehow to live the whole of my life in that chaotic flow, trying to wrangle it within invisible bounds so that beauty can emerge. I want to care less about whether the values are correct, the shapes perfectly measured. I definitely do not want my life to match someone else’s.

I must follow where I am led…riding on pools of watercolor as it flows, blooms, and splatters in unpredictable ways. Following  an invisible line that only my Maker draws out for me. This way of living delights me. Scares me. But fascinates me and keeps me coming back to the pages of my sketchbook.

Roadside Word Picking

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New Year’s Eve…I love Eve’s. They feel like that timeless space of hovering right before warp speed takes over. The eve of something begs for preparation, anticipation, reflection… a mindfulness about the next day and all that it will usher in. Christmas Eve feels like that, and so does New Year’s Eve.

The living room Christmas tree, my studio French tree, and all other decorations are down, packed away carefully and the house feels spacious and clear, ready for a New Year. I’m ready too! And excited for what 2017 might have in store. I know, full well, there will be challenges and perhaps even downright difficulties, sad and painful events. But I also know that making will be a huge part of the year ahead, just as it has been this past year and for so many  years of my life. It is what carries me, strengthens me, gives me joy. Creativity is the lens through which I see my life for the beauty that it is. Making things, be it drawings or paintings, knitted or crocheted items and now spinning wool and weaving wall-hangings, sustains me through thick and thin, in plenty and in want. As I make with my hands, it’s as if I’m holding a lifeline, grounding my feet to what is true, good and beautiful. Creativity allows me to take flights of fancy as it tethers and roots me to home and hearth. Living Artfully allows me to see beauty, as well as create it, in everyday, humble circumstances. I need this Artful way of living and I’m thrilled to continue in the New Year!

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This week between Christmas and New Year’s I’ve been spending some time pondering. Pondering and writing go hand-in-hand for me and I’ve logged numerous pages as I’ve tried to make sense of and sort through what felt like a jumble of clutter in my creative life. 2016 seemed to end with way too many irons in the fire, an explosion of too  many directions and not enough time or energy to really do any of them well. As I’ve left a pen’s worth of ink on the page, a sorting has occurred. As I’ve pondered the year ahead, a couple of words stand out to me:

SLOW and SIMPLIFY

Both verbs, they go together well, one nourishing the other. In simplifying my life, it is apt to slow me down a bit. As I slow my pace, things will need to simplify naturally. Much of this is challenging me to indeed clear out a few things. But mostly it’s a call to live present in each moment as if it is the only moment, and breathe into it, slowing and simplifying my expectation of accomplishment. This past year I began working on this in my day to day life. I did not master it (I wonder if that’s even possible) and therefore will continue the work of slowing and simplifying, even if it is just one small thing at a time.

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The shakedown of all this pondering has left me with a simpler way of seeing all that I do as a creative person. My work as a knit and crochet teacher, the video podcasts, blogging in numerous places, as well as  pattern writing, will all continue but on a lessened scale. My hope is that this will allow me to spend less time on a computer and more time with a sketchbook or fiber in my hands. I’m increasingly drawn to spinning and weaving, which hold in themselves this call to slow down and simplify. It amazes me how I’m drawn to certain kinds of craft which hold an inherent way of living with them. In this, in spending time making, I am more in touch with the beauty around me and I learn how to live my everyday life with grace and wonder.

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I do have new ideas I’d like to see unfold in the New Year. But my gut tells me it isn’t now. Later. Perhaps even in the next year. For now, SLOW and SIMPLE is the way forward, relishing life, making with my hands, reminding myself and others that it isn’t about how MUCH you make, but HOW you make it…slow, gentle, and savored.

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All of this talk of SLOW and SIMPLIFY may seem so pie-in-the-sky! Even I myself, have a little scoffer sitting on my shoulder as I type: “Ha! This is gonna last you maybe the next hour, Jen, but wait ’til warp speed hits!” But to this I say that it’s not necessarily about being less busy. Life is full and seems to grow busier with each year. But this is more about a state of mind, a way of being in the midst of the busy-ness. Certainly I will need to pull back on what I say yes to. But I am committed to experiencing all of life with the same attention and slowness I give to drawing, or spinning, the same focus that’s needed for weaving and knitting. To grow in this capacity will be lovely. Yet even in the slowing and simplifying is a need to go slowly with it, simplifying the steps.

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It all boils down to this: I plan on pulling off the daily path to sit each day and ponder. To draw the landscape around me. To knit the beauty into my heart. To weave wonder and grace into my life and offer it to others. I hope you’ll continue to walk with me here. Let’s savor together the work of our hands and the joy it brings us! Let’s encourage each other to go SLOW, to SIMPLIFY our distracted lives, and to live Artfully each day.

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

Could It Be?

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Could it be, in these small un-arted hours, beauty is wrought?

Could it be, in dishes and diapers, laundry and lunches, heaven is laid out?

Could it be, in lack and leanness, provision is lavished?

Could it be, in faces – not fancies – that fullness is found?

Could it be, as I embrace the small, my life is enlarged?

Could it be, that ART is happening even when I’m not making it?

Could it be, in all I feel as futile, God is fashioning beauty?

Could it be, the big life I long for is found in the little life I live?

Could it be, the constraints of time and money, unleash creativity?

Could it be, the pain of not making is simply the longing to be near Thee?

Could it be, this passion that seems to leak out a sieve, is actually being sifted, refined, made pure?

Could it be, even if I had all the time, energy, and provision to do my art, to live the big life I long for, that it would not be enough to satisfy or reach said big life and big art?

Could it be, that in me – a common vessel – resides eternity?

Could it be, that this side of heaven, I’m to weave my little thread, even if it’s the same thread as yesterday, or a new one I find along the way?

Could it be, my daily work is to draw a line from everyday things to eternity and back again.

Could it be, that contained in my insignificant, small life, the realms of heaven abide and He lives in grace and truth abounding?

Could it be, that the King of all nations would be born in a barn and sleep in a trough?

Could it be, that the Master Artist comes to create in humble, insignificant lives?

Could it be, the grandest art is made on the littlest scale?

Could it be, that True Beauty is wrought in lack, insignificance, and tedium?

Could it be I have it all wrong – instead of this life being about ME being able to do my art and thereby live my BIG life…that it is rather about CHRIST, the high and holy one, coming to live BIG in my humble and insignificant life?

Could it be, that my insignificant life is transformed into a magnificent one through the humblest of events – a babe in a manger, Emmanuel, God with us.

*****

Retuning my heart this day after Christmas, weary from so much merry-making, wondering where the Beauty is, reclaiming what is true and good. May your days after Christmas be magnificently insignificant as the babe weaves His love into your life.

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

What I Really Want for Christmas

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The month of December is filled with distractions.  I’m moving from here to there to yonder with increased speed. Lights and tinsel pulling my eyes from where my feet are planted. To-do lists lengthening with each passing day. Longings abound for more provision, more peace, and an ability to make just the right holiday celebration for my family. On top of all of that, my own desires and wishes for things I don’t allow myself to purchase throughout the year seem to bob to the surface waving gleefully at me.

I recently wrote a letter to Santa and posted it on Instagram. It’s a tongue-in-cheek-though-based-on-truth letter from my inner artist child to whomever might read about the visions of sparkly, colorful batts of wool and glittery drop spindles that dance in my head. It’s true. Having recently dipped my big toe into spinning and weaving, I am now being pulled into a colorful, sparkly world (much like the glitz and glow of Christmas itself!) dreaming of all the supplies for this new-to-me craft. In between all the shopping and wrapping, visions of wool and spindles and looms are prancing in my wee head.

It all gets me to thinking though. What is it I really want for Christmas? A stocking full of bright-colored wool and spindles will likely not bring the provision and peace I long for daily. When I stop and breathe and drop into a space of present-ness, I can experience the ache for those good things which cannot fit into a stocking. Healing, wholeness, rest, and provision…in essence Peace on earth and Goodwill toward men. Yes, this is what I want.

And when I sit in this place long enough, I begin to realize that I actually do have all of these things, in some measure (not in their fullness), right now, right here where I am in life. In the midst of all that is going on in my family, in the lives of loved ones and friends, I can see bits of this healing and provision, some small, some big. The deep things I long for are actually afoot as Christ comes to us daily, Emmanuel with us. I just need eyes to see it.

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This week, as these visions of wool and spindles dance in my head, I’m taking an extra moment to breathe and pull back the distracting curtain of holiday hoopla to really look for the presents that are in many ways already mine in Christ. They are yours too! The thing is…even though woolly batts and spindles are not THE thing, somehow Christ comes to us in and through them, as we make things with our hands. This is not meant as a justification for buying stuff. It is merely a recognition that even in the good things that we want in our stockings, glittery and sparkly though they be,  He comes to us and offers something far more beautiful and amazing – His own self, the Christ child, the babe in the manger.

I want eyes to see. Yes, that would be a lovely gift in my stocking this year and every year. A deepening ability to see Him, in and through and beyond all the goodness in my life, as well as in all the pain and hardship too.

A Very Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!!

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

***

“Lord, purge our eyes to see
Within the seed a tree
Within the glowing egg a bird
Within the shroud a butterfly.
Till, taught by such we see
Beyond all creatures, Thee…”

Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
English poet

Kaleidoscope Living

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Some days, all I see is brokenness. Everywhere, in my own life and in the lives of my friends, family, community, state and country…things are broken. Marriages and dreams, health and finances, family ties and good intentions, all have some aspect of brokenness – a tearing of the fabric,  holes of emptiness, or just flat-out broken shards of a once beautiful ceramic or pane. It’s difficult to know what to do with these broken, torn, or hole-ridden bits of our lives. At first they engender shock and disbelief. They lie around our daily landscape, sometimes being swept into corners and under beds, shoved behind closet doors as we hope they might go away or at least go unnoticed.

As a child I had a fascination with and love for kaleidoscopes. Any kind, whether cardboard or metal tubed, offered hours of gazing, turning them slowly, facing the light and marveling at the beauty inside. As an adult I have a small collection of these cylinders – tubes of magic, that I pull out from time to time to remember the colorful designs, new ones at every turn, beauty from bits and baubles.

It may seem horribly simplistic, maybe even offensive, to reduce the broken bits of our lives into thoughts of a childhood toy. But it heartens me, shall I say even strengthens me, to view the brokenness in me and around me in this way.

Left in a heap or hidden from sight, the broken bits accomplish nothing except weeping and gnashing of teeth. Yet hold them together in a cylinder of Love, one might have an opportunity to witness healing and even beauty.

Yet it requires more than merely gathering our brokenness and hurt into our arms. It requires us to move from one end of looking at the heap of broken bits, to the other end, where we can view them through a new lens. We need a lens that takes the broken fragments and transforms them into wonder-filled designs.

We I need to move from gaping at the broken bits, the shrapnel as it were, and walk the narrow path to a new way of seeing. We I need to make the effort to see it all from a different perspective, an eternal one, but one which has its designs firmly rooted here, on earth, in my town, in my own heart.

Once we have this new lens through which to see, we then need to face the Light, letting it penetrate each broken shard to reveal new colors. As our eyes adjust to the brilliance and warmth, we then need to turn, slowly but deliberately, changing how we view one another, our lives, and all our broken places.

As we turn, opening our eyes and hearts to the Light, our new Lens will transform all that is broken. I need to do this each and every day. I need, every day, to re-orient my sight and thus my heart and mind. I must do this for my own health and well-being but also for my children, my friends, and my community. In a very real sense, we need to be Living Kaleidoscopes to everyone we meet, holding out a new way of seeing.

It is not so easy as simply picking up one of my childhood kaleidoscopes. It requires work on my part —

**to refuse to merely gawp and be shocked by the brokenness.

**to make the effort to view life with the Lens of Love.

**to stand fully facing the Light.

**to do the work of turning, changing my perspective, opening my heart  to others, Being the Kaleidoscope.

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

The Anti-Inspiration that Works!

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I have found some of the most unusual inspirations along the creative path as an artist. I may be the only one who finds freedom and renewed passion in these quirky anti-inspirations, but I’ll share this latest one with you, just in case it helps you too!

Here’s how it goes…

My passion for drawing and painting starts to flag, droop, wither, recede. Whatever the description, I tend to first label it as don’t-have-enough-time, or i’ve-drawn-all-this-before, etc. But if I really dig deep and get totally honest with myself, I realize that sometimes lurking behind the flagging passion is an insidious thought that what I do just isn’t special. This thought somehow creeps in (might it be from comparing my art to the reams of other awesome online artists…maybe?) and I begin to look at my drawings and paintings as run-of-the-mill, everyone-else-does-this-and-better, nothing-unique, nuttin’-special.

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Yes, there it is folks! Someone who has been painting and drawing for nigh unto 20 years now, still…STILL…has these stupid thoughts running amuck from time to time. The struggle is real. Very real.

On my daily walk a few days ago, as I took a good look at this crazy belief that had snuck into my artist’s heart through the back door, I actually had this thought:

You need to embrace the possibility that you are not unique!

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I stopped walking. I looked around. And wondered where in the world this could have come from. I rolled that phrase over in my head again:

Embrace your UN-uniqueness!

Let go of the demand to be special in the art world.

Be free of the need to stake out artistic territory that is only yours.

Just be YOU. Whatever that is. However it looks on the page. Wherever your pen takes you. Just Draw. And Draw. And Draw!

And the strangest thing happened…I felt light as a feather! I started walking again, faster than I had before all this, running this new, surprising inspiration through the cobwebs of my artsy heart. It swept it out clean!

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And each day since, I waken to a renewed excitement about lines on a page, wondering where they will take me today. As much as I, as a teacher, might not ever want to say to you that you are not unique, I do think the pressure to BE unique can really get us in a bind. Setting ourselves free from the net of having to be special, allows us to swim with abandon, in any direction we’d like to go!

Try it…embrace your UN-uniqueness…and see what happens!

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

P.S. As always…you can follow these daily #Inktober drawings on my Instagram feed. 🙂

My Trellis

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There’s been lots of livin’ and therefore lots of drawin’!!

Somehow I thought life would slow down after the wedding, but since it hasn’t, filled to the brim with all good things, I’ve taken to drawing to slow down the moments a bit, to lean into all the goodness jam-packed into my days and weeks.

Even before my birthday last week, I had been drawing, drawing, drawing. Not even stopping long enough to Instagram them all!! Lately it feels as if I cannot get enough of it. Like there isn’t enough paper to catch all the lines and wrangle them into memories. Yet with each drawing, I can sense the haphazard jaunts of living being groomed into something more steady, upright, and ordered. Or at least somewhat ordered.

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Drawing is a trellis for me. Laying down line after line, offers a solid trellis for the color and textures. Scaffolding is another good word for it…a solid form upon which to hang all manner of splashed-on, riotous color. Without a trellis, the vine just takes over. With a trellis, there’s peace, order, structure. I like structure.

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Even without any color added. Just lines. Lots of lines. Line as the ultimate abstraction. I love them. Yes I do. I’m putting lines down every day. Must. Draw. I’m nearly half way finished in a brand new sketchbook I just recently purchased. Fun. Good medicine.

I’ll share more of them soon! In the meantime, I hope you are able to set down a trellis or two in your own sketchbook! Keep ’em flowing…hang onto them…cling to the trellis and you’ll grow a bit more every time.

Fascination & Play

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I am fascinated by many things. Nature, faces, shapes of objects, fibers, color, line, stitches, light…on and on to where I’m fairly dizzy with delight. This fascination is surely the heart of an artist’s life. Being an artist has less to do with raw talent and more with being fascinated by something and granting oneself the freedom to explore it, try it, dive into it some more, express it. Lately I’ve been fascinated with pastels.

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I enjoy both oil pastels as well as soft pastels. I love adding oil pastels to line drawings and also drawing with the pastels, then adding watercolor over top for the resist effects. I did a lot of this at the beach a couple of weeks ago and am still playing around with it in my sketchbook.

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But now I’m all jazzed about soft pastels. I tend to rotate through art mediums on a fairly regular basis, but lately I’ve been swiping the buttery, powdery sticks across pages of watercolor washes and having so much fun seeing the effects of layered color! When I fall in fascination love with a different medium all over again, it feels like I could spend whole days strung on end doing nothing but working with that medium. Life rarely allows that.

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Yesterday, however, I had the delight to draw and paint for an entire morning, a whole four hours, with a friend at our Ciener Botanical Gardens. Easel, pastels, numerous sketchbooks previously prepped with watercolor, sunscreen, water bottle, a snack and friendship…I could not ask for any thing better.

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Whenever I do get chunks of time to draw like this, the delight, sense of play and lightheartedness is transformative. Maintaining this lighthearted sense of play is a bit more difficult as I can easily get drawn in to the woes of life or even just the pull to “be serious” about my art and really DO something with it. The minute I head down this road, art making becomes heavier and my fascination wanes.

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I love keeping it light and free and fun! There will be time for the more serious end of art production later. Not now…I’ve gotta go draw the clouds up at the top of the hill!:)

I hope your weekend has room for fascination and wonder and play!