There is a delicious space between one’s head and the page. Sometimes I am not so aware of it as I begin to draw. But several drawings of late have me pondering this place where connections are made, lines speak like words, life informs lines, and vice versa.
It really shouldn’t surprise me. Drawing has always been so much more than simply lines on a page. I forget this phenomenon of conversation between hands and heart, of lines bold and thin drawing out what I need to see or acknowledge. Of course I thought, when I set about to draw a tree a day, that I would simply draw them as I see them out in the yard or neighborhood or elsewhere. But trees have long been a favorite subject of mine for pen and paint. Not only because of their incredible structure and shapes, but because they embody so much meaning, so much life, so much wisdom for living.
Indeed they have lived through so much. The plum tree in our front yard enchanted me the day we moved into our home 17 years ago. But I have watched (through numerous drawings) it’s trunk twist and lean in a direction that I now wonder if it will fall over one day. The front steps’ view from which I drew it’s portrait the other day doesn’t show much of the leaning. I shall draw that another day. Weather, age, and a towering pear tree beside it have forced a reach for the sun and a twist in the trunk like fibers on a spindle.
On my daily walks now I pay more attention to the trees that I have walked beside for so many years and which I have drawn on so many occasions. They are aging even as I am aging. I notice the cut off limbs, the bulbous way a tree grows around a lopping-off, the recent trimmings, the hack jobs where it seems no care has been taken to remove a tree…just severed in half, leaving still a significant portion of the trunk to continue “living”, if it can be called living.
I also notice small trees, the little Charlie Brown ones, the skinny spindly ones that may grow tallish but seem twig-like against their beefier neighbors. One such tree is in our back yard. It is actually a hybrid willow/cherry tree. It really isn’t able to get enough sun being dwarfed by the neighbor’s cypress trees just feet away. Under this sweet little tree we buried our cat Lucy. A rock marks her grave and we imagine her delight in being outdoors resting peacefully beneath a blossomed bower.
Winter trees have always enchanted me with their exposed limbs and revealed structures. You really get to see their shape, asymmetrical Limb patterns, bird nests and other ephemera lodged in their web of branches. No two trees are the same. Each tree is a unique being, much like humans. Their scarred and marred trunks tell stories of life and loss. I need to listen to these stories as they echo my own. Somehow, in drawing trees daily for not even a week yet, I receive comfort and solace for the unfolding stories in my life.
I’m headed out the door now to walk amongst them, to listen and to draw sustenance for the day.
“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,
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.
For those who have a child living with Type 1 Diabetes, there are many walks in life that others will never take. For our family, the first of these walks occurred when our youngest daughter, Maddie, was 7 years old. We walked her into Brenner’s Emergency Room, after having been told by our pediatrician that folks were waiting for her there, to take care of her. After 3 days of learning how to administer novolog and lantus shots, how to test blood sugars and count carbs, among a myriad of other frightening and sobering things to watch out for, we walked her out of Brenner’s Children’s Hospital and drove home to begin our new life.
From there, we began the daily short walks to the spot in our kitchen where all diabetes supplies were housed…test kit, carb-counting book, insulin pens, alcohol swabs, tissues, and a chart for recording all the data. We have walked with her to and from the car when visiting her diabetes educator and doctor appointments every six weeks. We have walked in and out of her elementary, middle, and high school when emergency supplies were needed. We have walked in and out of pharmacies for the necessary medical supplies. We, as her parents, have walked her to soccer games, gymnastics, marching band…always wondering if she will need the extra juice boxes we have brought with us, or if some other diabetes related issue will arise.
Our nightly walks are the ones that have perhaps logged the most miles…a midnight and 3 am blood sugar testing requires walking back and forth from our room to hers. Depending on the number, once we test her while she sleeps, it may require a walk downstairs to get more juice or other supplies to tend to the errant numbers.
We begrudge none of these walks! Indeed, we would walk to the end of the earth and back for her if it meant helping in some way to alleviate the affects of Type 1 Diabetes on her body over the long haul. We are so very grateful for all the medical advances and technology that make her life less complicated than those who have dealt with Type 1 in past years. But there is a long way to go before a Cure is hers. And to that end, we walk another kind of Walk…the JDRF One Walk each year.
Maddie loves the JDRF Walks every fall! We are always amazed at the amount of support from friends, family and folks around the globe who have donated to JDRF in her honor. And then to walk with friends and family on that day along with so many others, truly makes us feel like we are not alone! When Maddie entered high school last year, it was not possible to walk in any other of the fall JDRF Walks, and we tried again this past fall, but marching band and a high school youth retreat, have prevented our participation each year. She decided a few weeks ago that she wanted to walk in the spring, taking part in the JDRF One Walk in High Point instead of in Winston-Salem, NC. Randy and I were glad for her to have another opportunity to walk with friends and family, raising funds for a Cure for T1D.
But a few days ago, she discovered that her involvement in Show Choir was going to prevent her from Walking on April 28th. She was very disappointed, as this event was rescheduled due to a snow day earlier. She needs to be there, as she is part of a team who has been practicing since the beginning of the school year. Randy and I will walk in her honor and would be honored for your presence with us, and for your financial donation to JDRF on Maddie’s behalf.
The wonderful bit of all this is that the reason Maddie can be so involved in school activities, is because of all the advancements that JDRF has funded over the years for those living with Type One Diabetes. Without her insulin pump, Continuous Glucose Monitor, blood sugar testing kits, etc, participating in marching band and show choir would be extremely difficult. We will gladly send her on to Raleigh for the Show Choir Competition, while walking with JDRF this Saturday in High Point, NC. Won’t you consider donating to this terrific organization as they continue to do research, looking for a Cure as well as other advancements to make living with Type One a bit more manageable.
If you’d like to donate, click the link to directly donate to JDRF in Maddie’s honor. Thank you so much in advance for all your support, both financially and in friendship. Maddie thanks you! Randy and I thank you! Your donations and presence with us, make walking this path of Type One Diabetes so much more endurable, enjoyable, and may one day lead us to the Cure we need for Maddie and so many others living with this disease.
P.S. The first drawing in this post was made just a couple of days ago, as our silly yet oh-so-studious straight A student sat “studying” her book. I thought this was such a cute way of trying to absorb the information by osmosis, that I had to snap a photo and make a drawing of our 16 year old, sweet as ever, girl. <3 The other drawings have been made over the years of Walking with our daughter.
“Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see.” ~ Paul Klee
Seven days. One week. The length of a nice vacation or a hike on the Appalachian Trail. Each and every day of creating marks on 10″ x 10″ Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper, felt like a blind endeavor. I am not trained in abstraction nor have I an art degree. Each morning as I woke early and eager to begin these pages, I felt I had absolutely no idea what I was doing nor where I was headed. I may have had some vague notion of how I wanted to begin, what marks to put down first. But then it was my intent to respond intuitively to the marks, brushwork, colors and lines previously set down on the paper. In nearly every case i hit a point where I felt all was lost, I had run into a brick wall. But years of experience quickly move me in another direction, to keep going, to hang with it until…I start to see something.
“Look at life with the eyes of a child.” ~ Henri Matisse
This is not my first foray into abstraction. Many years ago I painted lots and lots of acrylic on canvas abstracts, or non-objective works, full of color and movement. Several of them adorn our walls. Some have been purchased, others sit in closets or sketchbooks. I don’t quite know what made me stop making them, except for the never ending childlike curiosity I have about all kinds of art and creative endeavors. It is likely that some other interest, like knitting or free-form crochet took hold. But I never stopped making little abstracts in my sketchbook. They are some of my favorite pages. Even my stitchworks of late look much like a painted and drawn abstract painting. I’ve only substituted fabrics and thread for the colors and lines.
Taking up the challenge that Tara Leaver presented to use small bits of time to create a painting a day (or really any other creative work) seemed the perfect way to stay with these beloved marks and see where they might lead. Though I have enjoyed every single day of this challenge, I feel I am nowhere near done with this, and so I’m glad I have 90 more days of the #100DayProject to keep making marks. And I will certainly be making more 10″ x 10″ works, as I have today, even after the Challenge is over. Somehow, through the blind mark making, I am beginning to see.
“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.” ~ Claude Monet
What I’m seeing is not really anything of magnitude. As much as I wish I could see a specific medium or approach to be “my thing”, what I see is a love for and true enjoyment of many ways to make marks on a page. Just when I think I love gray passages of color from acrylic being worked into the watercolor, then I’ll realize how I adore pure watercolor, oozling & wazzling on the page with just a few lines of carbon pencil or oil pastel. And just when I think “Oh yeah Jen, you love the bold bright color”, then I’m longing for quieter tones and lots of white paper. What I’m seeing is that I love it all. All of this resides in me and loves coming out to play on a page, a canvas, a knitted sweater, or a collaged and stitched fragment of fabric. It is a love for life and living that longs to come out in some tangible way. The voices in my head, all discussing and pretending to understand why I do this, are just rubbish. It is not necessary to understand. It is simply necessary to love. Thank you Monet.
And thank you Tara! For presenting a pilgrimage, inviting us to walk it, creating art in small increments of time, in a series (if the above is really a series?), and to listen as we walk. Thank you for your ongoing encouragement to keep drawing and painting, to push through the blindness until we see through the art to what really brings us joy. I’ll be carrying this week with me for quite a while, and even continuing to make non-objective works of art both in and outside of my sketchbook!
Enjoy the slideshow of this week’s journey into seeing. It includes Day 8. 🙂
“The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.” ~ Auguste Rodin
Change is not easy for me. Not one bit. When it became obvious that my beloved red thin glasses were not helping me to see well either far away or close up, I waited a very long time (about a year) before doing anything about it. I knew that I would have to let go of the shape of those glasses since they were not deep enough to accommodate the graduated lens I needed for close up work as well as long distance sight. Although I really wanted red glasses again, I wasn’t willing to spend huge amounts of time looking for red ones with just the right shape. I decided to be decisive. To take the first pair I liked and which felt comfortable on my face. Of course…the lens had to be large enough for my aging eyes.
The same thing is true whenever I feel the need to take inventory in my creative life. I have at various times over the years, felt overwhelmed by all the creating, all the online sharing, all the many avenues of living an Artful Life that I’ve established over the years. Just as my eye glasses were not fitting my needs for seeing clearly, so too the shape of my creative life was blurring my sight, hindering me from being able to focus in any direction.
I took some time for this. Indeed I’m still working through it all as I journal daily and really hone in on what my WHY is, what motivates and underpins all the artistic pursuits I love. I keep coming back to my sketchbook practice. It is from this daily lens on life…sketching my world…that all the rest flows. And it is this lens that I am once again focusing on, letting it be the One Thing that I keep first and foremost as an artist. Drawing my life. Drawcumenting the Days.
Oh to be sure, I’m knitting and crocheting, and teaching my lovely classes of women who want to learn. I have a commission painting going, and ideas for trying out some abstract acrylics on canvas. But these are secondary to the sketchbook lens through which I can see my life for the beauty that is there. It is this focus that is enabling me to shed a few pounds of extra weight online.
To that end, I’ve trimmed and sorted, weeded and organized it all. Well, most of it. You might like to spend some time browsing around jenniferedwards.com to see what’s here. And please do subscribe to my blog/website as I will no longer be sending out the Artful Lifeline weekly newsletter. Indeed, I haven’t done so in many months. I’ve realized that this blog and website can be exactly as my newsletter was…a place for folks to subscribe and receive encouragement and art news right in their email boxes. So please do subscribe here if you haven’t already! Click on the highlighted link above or find on the Home page the spot for signing up. Thank you so much for journeying with me here!
If you enjoy drawing your life in a sketchbook, check out my You Tube Channel for the Sketchbook Chats and other drawing videos. I have spruced up my Channel and am planning on adding other Sketchbook Chats in the near future.
And I am always active on Instagram. Such a fun place to hang out with other artists! I hope to see you there!
But now…it is snowing outside! Yes people….you read that right…SNOWING!!!!!! IN MARCH! So I must go draw it!! My new sketchbook is calling to me and I can see it ever so clearly now! I hope you are finding joy in living Artfully, following the lines of your life in a sketchbook filled with color!
Draw On my friends…Draw On!
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!
*Inspiration & Instruction for drawing your life is HERE. 🙂
I do not like to iron. At all.
I seem to be in a place where my heart needs re-orienting. Something is in need of being smoothed out. Yet I tell myself I like the chaotic wrinkles, the jumble of piles of laundry. I’m well aware that I’m speaking in veiled terms here. You’ll just have to go with this.
My husband wears black shirts that need ironing. No starch. Just a simple smoothing out of what the dryer doesn’t do. One shirt comes out of the dryer and is hung up on the rod in our laundry closet. A few days later, a second one. And several days later there’s a forest of black shirts hanging there waiting to be ironed.
My husband is perfectly capable of ironing his shirts himself. And he most often does. He is not waiting around for me to do this for him. For some reason, this morning, I saw those shirts hanging there and I needed to iron them. To sort them out so that they can be used, worn, enjoyed.
My life is needing a bit of sorting out. There’s too much hanging on the rod…mostly in my creative life. I’ve succumbed to the siren song that I can have my cake and eat it too, along with all the cupcakes and pies. Again, veiled generalizations.
What I realize in all this is a need to see. A desire for all of living to be grace. And the best way I know how to connect to this is through the humble act of drawing.
I don’t mean drawings to sell. Or to exhibit in a gallery. Ordinary, everyday sketches of ordinary, everyday things grant me sight that I desperately need. Even sight for the things I don’t like to do. Especially the things I don’t like to do.
I made this page in my sketchbook after I had ironed all the shirts. As I drew the contours of an iron we have had for years, and of plain black shirts that will have a white collar worn with them, I was filled with love. Love for ironing. Can you believe that? It was something about the slow process of smoothing something out and seeing the results.
And love for drawing. This crazy simple daily work of sketching the stuff of life works to melt my heart to what is right beside me and with me all the time – a man of the cloth who works to love and serve his family and congregation.
There is more that I could share, of a smoothing out, a realization of things I have realized numerous times before. That is life, isn’t it? Coming back ’round to what we have surely known before, but have forgotten somehow in the rush of living.
I may need to find a few more things to iron around here (sorry, not taking any ironing commissions! 🙂 …and to draw…
…grace in the stuff of living through the lens of my sketchbook.
I sit in a car. A lot.
It is not my favorite thing to do. At all.
On good days I can lay hold of the fact that all this driving around is actually due to great blessing in my life –
*an active, healthy, involved-in-everything teenager.
*lots of classes in neighboring towns guiding women along their fiber journeys.
*errands to procure necessary provisions for a family.
But most of the time, in-between the grumbling, huffing and occasional involuntary expletive, I’m hunkered down, eyes-to-road, thinking where-to-next?
Unless I stop.
I have drawn before (as in the above drawing), these little aberrations of sight and wonder when I happen to turn my head left, out the driver’s side window and look. I don’t do it on purpose usually. It is often with a sigh and a desire to get off this flippin’ traffic-filled road and get on with the real stuff of life, that I turn my head.
I’m not expecting this. At all. But somehow in the fog of my negative thoughts, as I’m stopped in that never-ending automotive line, I can see…
A lovely meandering line of tracks, leading from underneath the bridge I’m on, up into rolling hills where light is carving out distinct shapes on a winter-hued landscape. How I would love to hop out of the car and go. To get on that train and follow those tracks to other towns, states, see the world a bit.
I’m enchanted by the view beside me, right where I am, even as my reverie is broken both by the formidable cement railing barring my jump onto the train, but also by the honking behind me as the traffic has grown impatient with my imagined train trip.
I get back into gear and lurch froward, smiling at the gift of being forced to stop in the midst of what I loathe, and being offered a view, a spot of beauty along my daily highway.
I need to stop and look more often as I drive.
The traffic will just have to wait.
P.S. I do not sit there in traffic drawing. Although perhaps I should! 🙂 I snap a picture with my phone to draw from later, thus a second gift of insight for the day.
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.