The Magic of Morning

Out here on the deck, still feeling the traces of a weary fog, I am enveloped and enlivened by what I can only call pure magic. Perhaps you have felt this too? The titter and chirp of birds and crickets singing a song of hope for the new-made day. Their chatter is a lively conversation of what we might do today, what we could make, how we could repair and revive, what needs to be done, and what loveliness can be spun all around the daily-ness. We long to keep the crickets chirping and the birds singing their hope song.

At some point they will go quiet, giving way to the sounds of cars on a nearby highway, a train in the distance, neighborhood lawn mowers, and the voices of those with whom I live. I will spin today. I already have and I plan to spin more for it is bringing me so much joy lately. As the loose fibers are strengthened by a dance of twirl and twist, so too I am strengthened. Solace, hope, joy, color, excitement, purpose, and a useful work, are all granted as I spin. How this is, I cannot say, for I do not know.

I imagine myself sometimes as others must see me…a middle-aged woman standing with a spindle twirling suspended from her hand. Or an outdated snap-shot of a woman at her spinning wheel, albeit a brightly painted one. It must be odd to see an artist who once twirled paint on paper to be twirling colorful fibers in a similar manner. It doesn’t really make sense.

Perhaps it doesn’t make sense for any of us to do the creative things we do when we look at it from the outside. Yet from the inside we know who we are. We enjoy life a bit more when we are making things. We see things differently. We carry that making-magic into all that a day brings us. We consider how we might spin softness and color into every mundane chore and challenging situation.

This is why we create. Whether it is spinning fibers into yarn or words into story; swirling paint on a page or clay on a wheel; stitching wool into socks or thread into quilts…we are bringing the magic of morning into the rest of our day, spinning hope and a new song as we go.

Change

There is something about our current state of affairs that feels like a suspension, hiatus, time-out, or an extended stay-cation. It’s as if the world has been put on hold and we are hovering in place, holding our breath, until we have made it over the bridge, or until we are told we can come up for air.

I’ve also thought of these days as being on a phone call in which I’ve been placed on hold, or a VCR tape which has been paused. I imagine that the tape is being stretched as it waits in suspension until it can roll again. None of these images of our present situation adequately describe what’s happening .

It may be nearer the mark to use Tolkien’s definition of adventure versus quest. We are decidedly not on an adventure, where we will return to things as they were when we left them. When this is all over, we will be changed. The earth is already changing, and we humans will live and think of our lives differently than before. We have certainly not gone anywhere as an adventure would call us to do. Rather we are on a quest, one in which we are pinned in place, endeavoring to do our part in a worldwide effort to stay home and stay well. The effort to do this is far greater and more costly than the freedom to go on grand adventures. Yet it remains true that we will not land on the other side of this the same. We are being changed. I feel it in my bones.

Shifts in life often yield changes in art making. I have found some difficulty in sticking to drawing a tree every day. The drawings I make are decidedly simple and shape oriented, as if I’m designing for a weaving or a stitched fabric piece. Despite being in love with oil pastels , I’m wanting to let go of the must-draw-a-tree-every-day and just draw as I like, or weave or stitch.

It is likely that in letting go of having to draw a tree daily, that I will continue drawing trees. This was true before I began the quest on January 23rd. Trees are ever a fascination and will always be. My hope is to maintain this focused attention to their physical details, personality and their likenesses to me…or the other way around.

We do not know yet what changes will remain with us once we have been allowed to leave home, roam freely again, breathe and press play. That too will likely bring a shift in creative focus and I’ll want to follow whatever is next. For me, merely the change in seasons always brings changes in mediums and color choices. It will be interesting to see how we are all led to create once the current crisis is in our rear-view mirror.

Are you sensing a shift or change in your creative work? Do the seasons affect you in this way? Is the current quest we are all on changing what you create or how you approach your work as an artist/maker? I would love to know!💖 Most of all, I hope you each are well and safe and able to receive whatever this time is bringing your hands to create, no matter how simple or seemingly inane it may feel. Just keep creating, keep making things, writing poems and stories, shaping clay, painting and drawing pictures, trees or not. It will steady us and see us through to the other side.🙏💖

Rooted

“I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted, they travel about as far as we do.” – John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist.

Though I may be hard pressed to say that every tree I see and draw is completely content (as of course, we embue them with having feelings:) … I do have a sense that no matter their state, the trees exude a rootedness, dare I say confidence, in where they are and what they have endured.

Same tree as above…but this is its good side.

Even the tree at the entrance to our neighborhood stands tall and proud, waving the beautifully brittle leaves of last year which have hung on through the winter. This tree has a large open wound on one side that makes you wince. But from the other side, you would never know this wound is there. Perhaps this lack of discontent, as Muir notes, is due precisely to the gripped rootedness which pulls its life force from the earth and refuses to give up no matter what it has lost.

I see so many trees in and around our neighborhood which have suffered loss and yet still thrive. If you’ve been following my 365 day journey of drawing a tree a day, you will have seen numerous trees in various states of injury. There are many more to draw and I think this is becoming a fascination…the compelling reality that no matter how trimmed, cut off, torn in two or broken a tree is, there is still life pulsing through its veins and proclaiming, “I am here!”

What we do not see, and therefore I do not draw, is the extensive root system of any given tree. To be sure, I often see and draw the one or two roots which erosion has exposed. But beneath the soil, reaching far deeper and wider than we fathom, a massive subway system grounds the tree in its place and brings it the energy and nutrients it needs to survive and flourish.

I often fail to recognize this rootedness in my own life. But when I see it, I marvel at the connectedness to so many people, to a community, a church family, creative friends, and to my own immediate and extended family. I am filled with gratitude for the rich soil of faith which upholds it all and gives vitality and strength no matter the evident brokenness above ground.

Today as I draw, I’ll sink into my own roots a bit more, and lift up branch-like arms and hands in gratitude for all that holds me fast. 💖

Poems

“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”

-Khalil Gibran

I am finding this to be true. Each and every tree…no matter how trimmed, blighted, hacked off, or allowed to grow free…speaks in verse or rhyme a tale of life and love, beauty and grace.

Evening sky behind treeline…

The limbs are like pens, writing in the sky, waving words through line and shape. We are nearing the end of the season where I can see the tips of these pens. In a month or so, most of the trees will have blossomed and leaved, hiding the pens themselves, but showing off their colorful raiment, sharing a new stanza to their poetic life.

Neighborhood tree in Oil Pastel.

It has already begun here in the piedmont of North Carolina. Everyone is marveling (and perhaps a bit skeptical) over the early Spring activity. Daffodils, pear trees, forsythia and irises may all be blanketed in snow once or twice more before spring temperatures are here to stay. No one is complaining. Bring on the glorious display! My pen is ready to draw the transformation!

This week of tree drawings marks a shift not only in seasons, but also in sketchbooks. The last four days have been drawn in a slightly larger book which is probably intended more for writing than for drawing. There are tiny pale dots everywhere which I quite like along with the thick smooth paper. There are so many pages, I’m thinking it will last me a looooong time! We shall see!

Pear tree blooming in neighbor’s yard. Oil pastel with fat marker.

There is also a slight shift afoot in media choice. I have always been seasonally affected when it comes to what I choose to draw or paint with. The last two drawings in my sketchbook contain more oil pastel and hence more color on the page than in my previous sketchbook. I love it all! I welcome the shifts and try not to talk myself out of them. 😃

I was delighted to hear from several of you after my last post and that you are indeed receiving notifications now in your email boxes! Hoorah! I appreciate each and every one of you who takes the time to read these posts. My hope is always to bring you a spot of delight in your day and perhaps inspiration to draw or make something yourself!

Be on the lookout for tree poems! My eyes are peeled…💖

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

The Brink of Something

I have wakened, as I do every morning, to the blissful sounds of a quiet house. Of a coffee pot gurgling. A fridge humming. A clock ticking. In this pre-dawn deliciousness, I feel poised on the brink of something…

…a day

…a holiday

…days off from the norm

…a barrage of emotions which accompany being with lots of family

…creative hopes & dreams.

This “brink of something” is a familiar place for me. Don’t I experience this at least once, no five, even ten times in any given week? Don’t I find myself, as it were, perched at the edge of a glorious view, on tippy toes, arms outstretched, ready to leap and fly?

I think this is the truest index of my real situation. This “brink of something” is what gives me the delight, joy, excitement and wonder in my life. Yet it is also the culprit for much confusion, inner turmoil, even sadness and downheartedness. I often waken with the dindle and twitter of that ready-to-fly feeling…and then the day gets rolling and I’m left scratching my head wondering –

Is this it?  Was this the grand landscape into which I jumped?

The view from where I land each day isn’t so exciting or glamorous. And I haven’t landed in that “something” I thought I was in line for. By day’s end it all feels like the same mish-mosh of emotions, sad news from a world of woe, unrequited creative plans and dreams, weariness from slogging it out in the highways and byways of living.

Yet I awaken the next morning and there it is again… the desire to put on my jumpsuit and wings.

I could even go so far as to say that this has been my experience for all of my 53 years. Give or take a few mornings where grief and difficulty, or just plain ole monotony, have taken the wind out of my wings completely, I can see that this is the near daily ebb and flow of my life. To begin each day with such an exquisite hope, such a childlike desire to don my cape and wage the war of life with my paint brush, needles and wool…this is a brink I hope I always waken to.

The difficulty however is this — how does one live “on the brink” day in and day out? How do we, despite what life holds for us moment by moment, maintain an attitude of hope and expectation through it all? I write this not to offer a step-by-step  how-to. Although in just writing those words, I can see the hint of a path through.

Here, poised on the brink of this holiday season of Thanksgiving and then Christmas , my wings are more glittery than my average everyday wings. Woven with tinsel, rimmed in twinkly lights, they are fluttering with the anticipation of a kid on Christmas Eve. Yet 53 years has thankfully taught me a thing or two.

The real joy and delight of this season is not found in tinsel or lights (although I love festooning my home with them!) It is found in turning around from the edge of an imagined stunning vista, to view my life. The work I have daily, is to bring that dindle and twitter of anticipation to bear in my every day world. To stand on tip-toes with arms outstretched and to lean into whatever the day brings. My work each day is to walk step by step into it , wings unfurled, with the full knowledge of what this season is all about —

Gratitude that  I am not alone for the Christ child is coming and has come into our world.  Though I will one day stand on the brink of that heavenly realm, today’s work is thanksgiving for the view I have right here in my life.

May each of us embrace the now-and-not-yet-ness of this season. May we not lose heart in daring to stand tippy-toed on the brink of our days, anticipating our wings taking flight in all our joys AND in our difficulties and sorrows. May we brandish whatever swords of love we have been given, be they pens, paintbrushes, voices, instruments, yarn, clay or fabric.

And remember… you are not alone! I am on the brink here too and the Christ Child has paved the path before us, while also walking hand in hand , step by step, Emmanuel, with us.

Filaments of Light

What is it about spinning? The wonder…the allure? Can someone even explain why? I will attempt to do so here, but at the end of it all…this fascination baffles me. From a certain viewpoint, taking fluff of various kinds and turning it into string seems incredibly strange, silly and perhaps even nonsensical. You know how people say to us knitters…”why are you knitting socks when you can just go buy them, wear them immediately, and spend far less for them?” Well…think about this in reference to spinning yarn. I  mean really. Yarn in all variations, combinations, colors, textures, price points, etc is available to any who might wish to have it. So why spin one’s own yarn?

Well…

(Cue up the grand music, the poetry, the meditation of body and soul…)

And there, right there, I’m lost for words. How do I speak of the fluff of roving, wool batts, braids, sparkly fiber, wooly locks, alpaca, silk, and more? How can I describe the colors, intense and saturated, light and airy, pastel and muted, and the ever-beautiful basic cream of undyed wool? How do I tell you what it’s like to sit at a spinning wheel, fibers flowing through one’s hands and watch it turn into a strand of color and texture, sometimes barber-poling, sometimes thick, sometimes thin, sometimes slubbed and rough, other times smooth and creamy? And oh boy…how do I explain the wonder, the beauty of plying two strands of handspun yarn together? Oh the delight, the giddiness, the sheer bliss of this pastime? Even drop spindles hold a fascination for me that may be beyond description. Twirling dervishes of wooly delight.

The only way I know to speak of this amazing activity is to say that when I spin, with a wheel or spindles, it feels as if I am spinning filaments of light. To be sure many of the combined batts (both purchased and those I am now creating with a blending board…oh the crazy delight of that…but I shall not bore you with a poetic description, at least not today anyway) contain sparkly man-made fibers that glow and glisten as you spin. But even just the plain wool itself, especially when caught in the light just so, looks like tiny strands of light lining up into a cord as I spin, however thick or thin. This fascination with filaments of light is what gets me. I’m not sure I have any other explanation than this. Filaments of Light.

I cannot even say that I spin in order to knit with it or weave with it, though I certainly do both. But I actually spin just to be spinning. Just to enter that little dance (or is it a trance?) of foot tapping, wheel spinning, fiber flowing space. Even if it is only for a few minutes. I love that about it too…being able to just sit down to it and go. So little set up. No faffing about with where I am in a pattern, or decisions about what color to weave with next. Just spin. And spin. And spin.

And once I have the delicious yarn wound into a cake or hank, I love to just look at it, stack them up, sit them around here and there for decoration. Little cakes or twists of colorful Light!

The next time you have a hank of yarn in your hands, look for those filaments of light. Many of the yarns mass-produced today lose that spark of light. It is in the handspun variety that you can see it. Words for it may elude you, as it does me. But it will be there, spun up into the fluff and color of yarn.

<sigh>

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.

Connections

I am realizing a connection between my current mark-making sketches and the weavings I’m enjoying lately. The scarf that recently came off the loom holds threads of all kinds – thick ones, thin ones, novelty yarns, handspun wool, cotton, and so many colors. They are woven across a variegated warp in undulating waves, circles, stripes and varying bands which sometimes end on the edges and are tied together for a random fringe.

The abstractions for the #100dayproject are not dissimilar…there are typically lots of colors, multiple mediums threaded and woven, over and under each other in a seemingly haphazard way, but which, in most cases, hold together cohesively.

It has also occurred to me that these works speak of my life currently. It is multi-faceted, verging on chaos, numerous threads, lines, and colors winging in various directions, Some days I do not have a sense that it is holding together as a complete entity. I have to trust that it is. I have to lay my head down on the pillow each evening and let the day’s events be as they are. I have to stop weaving, stop painting, cease trying to wrangle all the disparate elements into a cohesive unit. I have to allow rest of mind and body to gather it all up, winding the loom for another day’s weft, turning the page so that I can start fresh again the next day.

The understanding I gain from what I create eases the confusion and restlessness inside. As each day on the calendar seems to flip by with increasing speed, the moments I’m able to add yarns to a warp, or make marks on a page, help me to see all the comings and goings of a day as a beautiful whole that may or may not be complete, but is moving toward that end one yarn at a time, one line and splash of color in a moment.

I cannot imagine moving through life, with all its ups and downs, all the over and unders, any other way than to create!

And you? Do you find connections between the different things you make with your hands? Or can you see a connection between your making and your life? For instance, do you find that you tend to choose really soft yarn to perhaps buffer the hardness of life? Do you draw detailed scenes to try and go deep into the tangle of your life to make some sense of it? Do you choose bright happy colors because, in general, that is how life feels to you? Or maybe because you need the bright happy colors to lift your day? Whatever it may be, there is almost always a connection? Looking for it and discerning what that is, can be very helpful in your everyday life.

Have a beautiful artful weekend!

Jennifer