Noticing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Artful Life Primer

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The topic of this book began to take shape soon after my sickness and surgery in 2013. It was June. I’d been doing a lot of thinking, knitting and drawing as I continued to heal, grow stronger and get used to life without a colon. I stood at the sink washing dishes in the beach house where my husband’s family goes for a week of vacation every year. As I washed dishes, the thought came into my head that I no longer wanted an Art Career. Numerous and varied attempts to find my niche seemed to fall flat and be frustrated by life’s demands. It occurred to me there, with suds and dirty dishes in hand, that what I really wanted was an Artful Life.

An Artful Life, to me, meant that ALL of life would be infused with creativity. Or at least with an eye for seeing the beauty in it, no matter what came my way. An Art Career could be, and was, constantly interrupted by domestic duties and often sidelined by health crises. An Artful Life, on the other hand, would be possible, if I lived all of life as opportunity for seeing beauty and listening to what it had to say to me. I realized there at the sink, that I had already been doing this for many years. I had somehow learned to use my pen and knitting needles to draw the beauty out of my circumstances and knit it into my heart.

After a second, and then a third surgery to deal with issues arising from the first one, I began to pen a very basic outline of what I was doing to live this Artful Life. I realized I had been developing a practice, a daily habit, of showing up to the page, the sketchbook, the wools & cottons, and working out what I encountered in life. It didn’t matter if life was boring or repetitive, exciting or painful…ALL of it could be scoured for beauty. Creating something, ANYTHING, in and through life’s days became a vehicle for seeing, capturing, releasing the beauty that I was convinced was there.

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This little book is all about my practice of creativity. It is very simple, perhaps too simple, in its straightforward three-fold approach. But I wrote this with you in mind. I want you, no matter your creative background or dependence on rulers for a straight line ;), to be able to engage in a practice of living artfully. Indeed, this practice doesn’t even require that you know how to draw or knit! Simple acts of creation are all that is needed. It will change you. That’s fairly bold to say. To practice creativity on a daily, or multi-days-a-weekly basis will transform you in astonishing ways.

Beauty comes to us in many forms and surprising packages. We need to train our eyes to see it, our hands to capture it, and our hearts to be transformed by it. Beauty is everywhere, in everything we do and experience. Even in washing dirty dishes.

An Artful Life Primer: Practicing Creativity to See, to Listen, and to be Transformed

Available on Amazon

Living Now

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The difficulty of living now on this side of sickness and surgery, has been  well…living. I know that sounds crazy and messed up. But there it is.

In sickness or trial of any kind, there’s an intensity to life. A laser sharp focus. No matter how yucky the circumstance may be, there’s nevertheless a funneling of all our faculties to get well, to get through it, figure out how to get to the other side of it, etc. And when we do, the exquisiteness of being on “the other side” (healthy, or pain free) gives way to daily living. This everyday mundane almost imperceptibly scatters dust on our single-minded focus. We begin to use the familiar words “busy”, “scattered”, over-committed” and quite likely we are. We may feel dull, fuzzy-headed, lacking purpose. Re-entering the flow of life after having gone on an adventure (however difficult and painful it may have been) can be disorienting. It might be likened to returning from the battle field. “OK, now what?!” is the question that haunts you , especially when the adventure changed you in some way shape or form. “How do I now live?” is a question worth exploring especially if you want to honor what you have learned and experienced, and not forget the intensity and bits of truth you received while in the trenches.

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There is a hefty amount of verbiage these days that calls us to GRAND living. Living large, seeking adventure, playing big, rising strong, radical living, big magic, finding your passion, defying small, do what lights you up, don’t waste your life. Please, do not hear me wrong on this. I have found and continue to find encouragement in the discussions within these topics. Yet the overall timbre to these calls to arms leaves me a bit perplexed and flat. Is there room in these manifestos for living an ordinary life? For finding beauty and adventure while playing small? For rising from the rubble of difficulty still weak and uncertain? For discovering magic in scrubbing toilets? For being enabled to live your life, just as it is now, right where it is now, with a sense that here, right here, is where I can find beauty and light. Is there a place for radically living your life as it is now without having to sell everything and live in a tent? Is there a way to actually live the humdrum, everyday, same ole same ole in such a way that imbues it with joy, light, and love? Could we, instead of being called to go do something big and radical so that we won’t “waste our lives”, could we actually live the life we’ve got, the day in and day out, the daily struggles and numbing normalcies with an eye toward beauty? Right here. Right Now.

That’s a bit of magic I could go for!!

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I’m headed somewhere with this…stay tuned. 🙂

Join in the discussion in the comment section if you like.

The first drawing is of the waning flower pots on the front steps of our home. I often need go no further than my front door to find beauty. But I have to be reminded of this. Every Day.

The second drawing is of the Ciener Botanical Gardens here in my small town of Kernersville, NC. Again…a bit of Giverny right here where I live.

The Measure of a Life

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The true measure of  an artist’s life is NOT

*in how many drawings one makes

*nor in how “good” they are

*nor how much money they fetch…

…but rather in a stouthearted search for beauty in everything:

*in the little as well as the big

*in the mundane and the magical

*in calm as well as chaos

*in peace and also pain.

We wield our pens to draw out the lovely contained in anything, even d’un beau affreux (the ugly beautiful).

-jpe

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Recently, I sat with my husband on a crisp fall day gazing into our chiminea. I caught my breath as the flames revealed a beautiful labyrinth of lines etched into the burning logs. After running inside to get my pen and sketchbook, I tried following the lines to etch them onto my paper, mesmerized as I went along. I did not expect to find beauty in a chiminea.

Even in a furnace of affliction, beautiful lines are revealed as the fire rages. We need eyes to see it and a sketchbook to record it.

This is how I want to spend my life.

Measured or not.

Today’s Gold

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I watched as the dark lines of trees against a subtly colored sky whirred past. From my vantage point in the way back of our van, there was nothing else for me to do. An hour’s drive with a car full, I have opted for this seat to allow longer legs more room. It is dark already at 5 o’clock on this Winter’s solstice. The silhouettes of pine and deciduous are breathtaking against the ever-changing backdrop of a dimly glowing sky. I keep wishing it wouldn’t go by so fast. Each dart of my eyes is trying to snap a picture of the beauty within the small aperture of the back window. One after the other, gorgeous silhouettes flying by in the frame. Please stop! I want to take it all in, savor it, remember it!

But no. We must move on to our next destination. We must arrive on time. Can’t slow down. Can’t stop. Must. Go. On.

As I was held captive by space and beauty, I couldn’t help but feel this is my life–whirring by in a small frame of a family on their way somewhere. Of an artist in a small town. Of a teacher in a tiny school. SO much beauty flying by all around me and I scarce can take it in.

This is the ache I carry with me always. I feel it keen at the busiest times. These are the times it just feels wrong to be so busy. Yet it is precisely because of all the busy that so much beauty is flying around me–

*Loved ones, crammed in a car, listening to lovely holiday music, on our way to hear other loved ones perform and sing a holiday concert.

*A house full of lights and trees and decorations and presents and food and bustling.

*A calendar filled with holiday events, church activities, trips to visit family, book signings and more.

Can’t we please stop? I want SO to take it all in, to savor it, to remember it!

But no. We must move on to our next destination. We must arrive on time. Can’t slow down. Can’t stop.

Or can we?

I reach for my pen, sketchbook and journal. I write my thoughts. I draw a picture. This is stopping. This is remembering. This is savoring some of the beauty that has whirred by. If only for a few minutes or half an hour, I can stop the van, get out, take a pic or two. Then get back in.

This will do. Though the ache will continue on, it is abated in the sketchbook and the journal. Drawcumenting the fleeting moments soothes the ache to go slow. Writing it down reminds me that I’m still here, a vessel to hold all these beautiful moments.

I will draw and write to slow down time just a little bit. Won’t you hop out of the van with me, and we will take a pic or two together!

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This is a follow-up post to the previous one, in case you missed it.:)