The Power of Play – Take 2

After the previous post went out, it occurred to me that I didn’t exactly get around to writing about how creative play has a subtle power to change, move, ignite and inspire us to more creativity. I became enamored with my new word SWOODLE, and well, that was that. I kept on swoodling in my sketchbook (swishing paint and doodling with pens, markers, and pencils) through last week, and lo and behold… I began to weave a little tapestry.

That last statement might not mean much to you. Might seem a bit like “duh”…of course you would Jen! But here’s the beauty (and power) of it all – I had been, prior to playing in my sketchbook, in a creative slough. Now there’s a word for you: slough. Pronounced sloo.

The word slough has two listed meanings. 1. Swamp. 2. A situation characterized by lack of progress or inactivity. Both are apt to describe how I was feeling as an artist in the “middle” of her life. I cannot say that playing in my sketchbook has completely pulled me out of this swampy bog and set me on a sparkling new path. But I can say that swoodling in the swamp sparks something within me akin to embers glowing and cool spring breezes. The very unstructured, unabashed, free of restraints, trying-new-things playfulness shifted something in my brain, enabling it to open to so many ideas for small tapestries. The even greater benefit of it is less in the plethora of ideas (which I often seem to have aplenty, bordering on too many!) but rather in a “why not” attitude heavily doused with “let’s just see what happens if…”

Here’s a little secret…shhh…I might chicken out before I type it here for you…there’s a little voice inside my head that says I’d really like to be a tapestry weaver. <gasp> When I watch videos about the Australian Tapestry Workshop or the French Tapestry tradition or Dovecot studios in Scotland…I begin to slobber. Oh wait, let me say rather…I start to swoon. There it is again…Swoodle, Swamp, and Swoon. If you find yourself in a Swamp, Swoodle for a while and soon you will Swoon into action! Ha! OK…I’m digressing again!

What I want to leave you with is the idea that creative play, the kind that makes you feel all giddy inside, or feel like you want to skip down the sidewalk or draw with chalk in the driveway…it will do something in you. It can unlock what has been stowed away for a while, namely a child-like sense of wonder. I want to maintain that wonder as I weave tapestries…to keep weaving images that my inner serious-minded-artist says are juvenile and childish. I want to weave with all kinds of fibers instead of restricting myself to only one type of yarn. I want to weave lots of luscious colors instead of forcing myself to use “grown-up” colors, whatever that means. I want to weave colorful shapes and not feel pressure to always have form and shadow. I want to just place colors in between warp threads and watch a picture grow. Like a garden. Perhaps that is actually what I want to be when I grow up…a Yarn Gardener. Spinning wool into yarn and Weaving yarn into pictures. Maybe at my age it isn’t too late! Maybe, just maybe I could do that.

I think I already am. 😃 At least I’m at the beginning of that journey. I lose my way sometimes. Life has a way of weighing in and swamping me. My sketchbook is a life raft…a place to hang onto and swoodle whatever I want with no rules, no pressure, no drama or trauma. Just play. It’s powerful.

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Hey! Did I also mention that one of the first things I did in between sketching sessions, was to pick up a spindle and start spinning bright colorful wool? Yep. Toys are so fun…twiddling a whirly-gig that makes wool become yarn is just way too fun! One thing leads to another and to another. Keeping it fun and free!

The Power of Play

I have long known that there is a little girl inside me who loves to open up a sketchbook, pull out crayons, pens, paints, and have a go at whatever strikes her fancy. She gets huffy when there’s any suggestion to stick with one way of doing things, or to make proper grown-up art, or to get serious about art making.

There have been years when she was ok with sharing her drawings with others through a gallery or art exhibit. But lately she has been pleased as punch just to doodle and draw, splash on a little paint, or swipe a creamy oil pastel across a white page.

(Gouache & Oil Pastel)

Play, for creatives of any kind, is crucial. It’s my favorite place…playing with art mediums, or fibers, yarns and spinning tools. The Wonder that any of this “play” turns out to be a cool picture or some yarn to knit with, is icing on the cake. It’s the playfulness, the chase of “what will happen if I do this?”, the simplicity of time spent exploring and just being ok with whatever comes out on the page. There is certainly a time for “applying oneself”. But in my recent shenanigans on paper lately, it somehow feels like deliciously applying myself to the world of PLAY!

I can play with imagined landscapes.

Or with drawing real-life events right out of my head, not from a photo.

Or I can play with different materials.

Or switch up the colors in rendering what I see in a photo or directly from life.

Or I can just swoodle all around the page! (Swoodle shall be a new word…it is a mash-up of swish and doodle, as in swish paint around then doodle with a crayon 😁) It is my firm belief that we ALL need to swoodle whether we are artists or not!

Give it a try! Sit cross-legged on the floor with some paper and crayons or big markers, maybe some large brushes with tempura paint and SWOODLE to your heart’s content!

******

💖What do you do for “play”? If you are a maker of any stripe, how do you unplug your “make proper grown-up art” brain and just let-go? I’d love to hear!

A Time to Draw

In that drifting place between awake and sleep, I wanted so much to draw what I was seeing…to see if I could draw dark upon dark…shapes and shadows lovely in their streetlamp glow. I hovered there taking it all in, relishing the abstractness of night, but willing myself to stay right there and not go downstairs to grab my sketchbook. I fell asleep content that I even have this desire to draw, and glad for tomorrow…a chance to drawcument moments , sketch small inconsequential things.

There is a time for drawing. And there is also a time for desiring to draw. I suppose one might say that all of life can be seen through the binoculars of pen and paintbrush, whether they’re being used or merely resting on my drawing table. It is not the drawings themselves that are noteworthy. It is the whisper that comes through them, a voluminous assurance that all is well and all will be well. I cannot tell you how this is.

In attempting to tell you I might say that the act of sketching in a sketchbook is a bit like the dandelion I saw yesterday morning on my walk. Truly it was (or seemed to me) the only one growing along the sidewalk. I snapped its photo, intent on drawing it later, savoring the golden ruffle of petals in a sea of green and purple weeds. Today, as I walked, the entire yard of that same lone dandelion was dotted with so many of them, I wondered if I just hadn’t taken the time to really look yesterday! They were everywhere…as if the one brave dandy had told them all that it was safe to come out now. Golden gumdrops all waving their pretty little heads at me as if to say, “Draw me next!”

That’s how it happens. One sketch opens a doorway to so many more! I am thoroughly enthralled with lines and dancing colors on white pages and am now in that familiar state of quivering-with-delight-bordering-on-anxiety that I won’t be able to sketch them all! This kind of overwhelm threatens to shut me down completely, and has on many occasions. But I know how to work with it. I know what to say to the clamoring though cheerful dandelions. It is to sit down with them, each in their turn, and to assure them…”All in good time, dear…all in good time.” Then to walk away relishing the desire to draw as a good and perfect gift from above.

I will not be able to draw them all. Nope. Not even remotely. I share with you just a few of the recent “golden dandelions” in and around the yard of my life. There are more to be sketched. And many that will not make it into my sketchbook. I will still treasure them and listen for the whispers they send me…words from an expansive world of light and loveliness, so needed in my day to day comings and goings, tragedies and triumphs.

I’m off to live the day. There’s a pen and sketchbook in my purse. Ready for drawing a dandelion.🌼

My Tea Garden

I am a tea drinker. Yes, coffee in the morning…but tea the rest of the day. Hot tea, even in summer. But I do love brewing tea and then pouring it over ice on especially hot days. All kinds of teas…dark and caffeinated to light herbal teas, green teas with a touch of lemon or ginger, peppermint…well, it’s all delicious!

Except for Lapsong Souchong…nope…don’t like that stuff…tastes like a mouthful of smoke. Blech.

But I digress…what I’m so crazy excited about is my newly established Back Deck Tea Garden! I’ve been dreaming of it for a while now, got a book about how to start one and what kinds of plants would yield what kinds of teas. Of course, doodling ideas in my sketchbook was a must to work out what I might like to start with, what I already have on hand, and how it might grow right there on my deck.

You see…I’m not very much of a gardener. Oh I have all kinds of grand visions of gardens and I can plant them in the ground. But then I say to the little plants “Grow and Flourish” and I walk away. If I don’t see them, I tend to forget they need watering and tending. Come mid-summer they are wilting and gasping for water. But if plants are on the deck, right where I can see them out my kitchen window, I tend to them much better.

So here’s my little Tea Garden in its infancy. Of course, I have flowers in and around the herbs. Some of the flowers, such as Bee Balm (which is actually Bergamot!) and Tufted Violets were listed in my Tea Book as lovely plants from which to harvest flowers and leaves for tea! Planted in and among the other flowers I have lavender, rosemary, peppermint, basil, another kind of mint, lemon balm and I hope to have some chamomile I’m trying to grow from seed. A good start I think!

I’m dreaming of sipping freshly made teas from my little garden all summer and then drying them for fall and winter tea. I’m also planning on lots of drawing and sketches from the flourishing plants!

Now to go water them and whisper to them to grow, grow, grow!

Taking Hold of A Line

Before Lent began, a dear friend and I decided to walk through Lent with a sketchbook in our hands. This isn’t radically different from my normal everyday practice, but I had been sporadic with sketching, especially as a long, rainy & cold winter had all but sapped the color from my eyes.

The benefit of seasons, both in nature and the church calendar, is that they afford us an opportunity for change. I know I was parched for the nourishment of my sketchbook, but I don’t think I realized just how much so. Committing to a daily drawing (or two:) in a sketchbook, actively seeking something of note either mundane or magical, sets in motion a rumbling akin to Springtime…a quiet steady blowing on near-to-dying embers.

At first, weeks ago, I drew from my imagination, interior conversations, fantastical landscapes filled with color which I long to walk in. I also drew happenings, actual walks around Salem Lake and elsewhere, silliness with my daughters, the college world that is in my home.

For the first couple of weeks it was enough to just make one drawing, or two each day. Now I am filling page after page and my head is filled with far more drawings I don’t have the time for each day but am planning to sketch them soon! Photos are good for this…snap a photo and draw later from that if I’m unable to draw from life.

I’ve certainly experienced this before, but it is a wonder and a delight to pick up my pen and feel the taking hold of a line. Then soon having that line wrap itself around me and pull me along showing me all the things, places, events I can draw in my sketchbook! Drawings beget drawings…always! Ahhh… (contented sigh😊)

I have realized in writing this post, that I have far more I want to share with you through the lens of my sketchbook. So I will do so in shorter posts in the upcoming days. There are too many sketches to cram into one blog post! And I’m hearing my sketchbook call out to me just now as the blooming pear trees in my neighborhood are bursting like popcorn in a kettle!

Must go draw…but I’ll be back to share the findings!💖

Tomorrow

More than ever before, we need to be making things. This is not merely to while-away the time or to keep our minds off of all the sad news and the what-will-happens. There is an inherent belief in creating something that says, if only in a small way, “Tomorrow will come. A new day will rise.”

We cast on a knitting project and in so doing is the stalwart belief that I desire to and will finish this sweater or hat or pair of socks in the future!

We draw in our sketchbooks to capture a small bit of something that caught our eye today so that we can remember it tomorrow.

We spin wool into yarn which is in itself a ball of possibilities either for you or for someone else to make into a thing of beauty another day.

We begin a tapestry weaving or some cloth knowing that it will require us to keep weaving tomorrow and the next day and perhaps even the next.

(Ok, so this isn’t a loaf of bread. I DID bake bread yesterday but I didn’t take a photo of it. I think this looks like a most delicious loaf, don’t you? :D)

We bake bread with the knowledge that it will be enjoyed for at least a day, maybe two or three.

Just as planting vegetables and flowers casts our net into an unforesee-able future…so too does penning a poem, molding clay, writing a song. As Julia Cameron notes in her book The Artist’s Way, creative people are like equestrians in an obstacle course. The rider must throw his or her heart over the fence in order to land on the other side. This is precisely what we are doing as we daily set our hands to making something.

Whether it is actually planting a garden, or baking bread, or beginning a large oil painting, I hope that you will make time to create something. For this will pull our hearts forward as we endure our current worldwide situation. If anxiety prevents you from that large commissioned piece, then make something small and manageable. Try a new way of creating like origami or simple watercolor doodles. You will discover your heart is a bit lighter as we leap over this huge fence.

Grace and peace to you all this Easter weekend and beyond!❤️

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.🙏💖

If I Could Be A Tree

If I could be a tree

I would a willow be

To wave at all I see

And shelter those with me.

***

Or perhaps I’d be an oak

To dangle tire and rope.

In kid-laughter I’d soak

And wear an autumn cloak.

***

But oh a birch to be

In ruffled finery

Graceful limbs so free

A merry dance of three.

-jpe

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We personify trees all the time. At least I do…seeing them as beautiful people with personality and history. But couldn’t we tree-ify ourselves? Is that a word? If not, let’s make it one! I like imagining which type of tree I’d like to be and why.

The problem is that I’m hard pressed to land on any one type of tree for long. A month ago I wanted to be an evergreen, tall and enduring through winter’s blast. Last week I wanted to be a cherry tree with explosive fireworks of blossom and color. Yesterday an oak, today a fanciful birch.

These birch trees are fascinating to me. I’m fairly certain that we have River Birches growing in our neighborhood. It puzzled me this week to notice that all of them, with only one exception, had three trunks growing out of one. The exception had two trunks. With a bit of research, I discovered that this is how they are planted…three risomes together in order to keep the height of the tree down a bit. Apparently, left to grow individually, they grow way too tall. Clumping them together, or allowing two other suckers to grow along with the main trunk, helps keep their height under control. But I digress…

Whatever the reason, they look to me like three sisters, or three friends dressed for a party, dancing or laughing together. Their happy coexistence reminds me of the Trinity, of strength in a cord of three strands, of a perfect prime, and the number of children I have.

And how about you? What tree would YOU like to be if you could be a tree? And why is that? I’d love to hear from you and what your tree-ification might be? Well, for today at least!😉💕

P.S. I seem to draw imaginary trees a good bit…like the Yarn Trees and this Steam Tree. It happened as I gazed at my morning coffee and could see the steam rising and curling out of the mug…which got me to thinkin’ that it surely must grow from the bottom, where it is “watered”, or “coffee-ed” and…well, anyway…it’s fun to think about.😃

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!🙏💖

Be A Tree

More than ever before, I find myself wanting to be like the trees I am drawing. They stand tall, firmly rooted no matter the ever-changing weather, bending however needed to the passing winds and storms, yet always growing, even blooming, despite their losses.

Yes. I’d like to be a tree.

But my inner life belies this stalwart image of rootedness. I can feel so unsettled, fearful, and confused amid the recent viral storm. I find myself reaching out for branches to hang onto as the winds blow.

When we consider trees, we often think of them in terms of seasons. Trees grow and change with each passing season. They add a new ring of strength around their trunks each year. And it is this that I hang onto as I think of what our current situation is requiring of us…this is a season, and it too shall pass.

Winter will clock over to Spring here very soon. Then Spring into Summer. We hope, along with Summer, that this virus will cease spreading, and that life can return to what we had thought was “normal”. We are all, in varying degrees, experiencing shock and grief over the loss of our normal everyday. But it is a season, much like Lent, and it will pass.

Yet also like Lent…we will not be the same after this season of fasting and difficulty. It remains to be seen just how different the fabric of our individual and collective lives will be once this virus has made its way through the world. We will look around at the devastation of not only lives, but also livelihoods, and a new normal will be established. The seasons will continue to come and go. There will be a lasting impact on how we view and live our lives from here on.

The wounded trees I draw have this in common: life continues to throb and burst forth from gaping loss. How this is, I do not know. But I want to be like these trees. I want that for you as well as for me. I hope to look around one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, and see all of us standing tall or perhaps a bit bent, with our various wounds and scars from battling the virus, yet growing, perhaps even thriving and blossoming into something completely unexpected.

I don’t know how this will happen, but it is our hope as we walk this Lenten pilgrimage through a forest of difficulty and uncertainty. The Master Arborist walks among us and with us through every glade and glen, every season and storm.

In this Forest I will gladly be a tree, come what may.