What I Really Want for Christmas

eyestosee

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

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

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

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

whatiwantforxmas

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

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

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

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

***

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

Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
English poet

Nothing to Prove, Everything to Share

beautifuljumble

Just like oozly watercolors on paper, the colorful mind of an artist can turn to mud with the introduction of just one wrong thought. You don’t think of it as a “wrong” color to add in the mix with all the rest. You think “oh I’m just assessing the work”, “I’m just analyzing” or “I’m just being realistic.” But the minute, the absolute second, the tip of your brush touches the paper with thoughts of self, outcomes, worthiness, or value, the brown mud creeps into every color on the page chasing joy right out of the picture.

This happens to me far more often than I’d like to admit. But what also happens, fairly soon after I’ve thrown my hands up in the air crying Uncle, is that help begins to rain down. My hands are then catching the lovely drops of nectar that speak directly to my ailment and soothe my soul.

The first of these drops came a few weeks ago as I was agonizing, for the umpteenth trillionth time, over whether or not to start a video podcast. I won’t bore you with all the artistic angst (and believe me – the angst isn’t artistic at all!) I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and saw a post from my favorite yogi Eoin Finn, which said:

Nothing to Prove. Everything to Share.

The quote was even in the shape of a droplet of water, like dew from heaven. These words leapt off the screen and lodged in my heart so grandly that within 24 hours I had taped and uploaded my first video podcast for sharing my love of knitting and drawing. Eoin had put a hashtag with this quote, #jenniesallen, who has a book coming out soon by this very title: Nothing to Prove. I cannot wait to get my hands (and heart) on this book.

The next gift was a short but profound Good Life Project Riff with Jonathan Fields. I’ve listened to his podcast interviews for years and love hearing from so many voices about the path their creativity takes them. But in his “riffs” (very short podcasts) he jams on a particular subject. In his latest Riff, I was reminded of a truth that sets me free in my creative angst every time! I won’t go into the whole description of Jonathan’s podcast because you will love hearing it straight from him (only 9 minutes!), but I’ll tell you the main gist:

There is no there there.

There is only here now.

Oh how this sets me free from the tyranny of outcomes and plants me firmly where I need to be, fully alive to the moment at hand.

The last gift, though certainly not the least, was discovering this week the work of Michael Nobbs. I had heard of him through Sketchbook Skool for a while, but only a few days ago ventured to his newly revamped website from the Sketchbook Skool Newsletter. After listening to several of his short daily podcasts and reading his writing on Sustainable Creativity, I fell in love with this slow, gentle approach to creative living that Michael embodies.

Michael’s podcasts and writings, timely and inspirational during this week of Art Show preparations, have felt like a comforting hug. With tea in hand, short bursts of work, followed by times of rest, a bit of homely baking and a generous amount of pondering, I will make it to the Art Show and beyond…one small step at a time.

I highly recommend you check out Michael’s beautiful offering! As well as Jonathan Fields and his Good Life Project, Eoin Finn, and Jennie Allen. This season of thankfulness has me abounding in gratitude for all the fellow creatives valiantly sharing their love and messages with us. They enable me to go forth valiantly as well, with nothing whatsoever to prove…

just everything to share.

See you at the Show! 

artshow2016invite

****Note on the above sketch: I have taken to drawing jumbles in my home. These are places where lots of STUFF seems to assemble itself into a colorful mess. They are great places to draw!! Drawing the jumbles of my life helps me see that there is beauty in messes. And it also delays the tidying up…:0

Kaleidoscope Living

kaleidoscopes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**to stand fully facing the Light.

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

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

All My Attention

BeachAdirondacks

Every drawing tells a story. It doesn’t matter whether it is abstract or representational, detailed or dashed off, unfinished or complete…it speaks of life in that moment, what was going on either in the artist’s physical world or in their feelings and thoughts. More often than not, it encompasses both.

CaptureLucy

I often feel like Irene, in the Princess and the Goblin, whose been given a near invisible thread to take with her into the world outside the castle and to follow where it leads so that she might be led back home. Life has a way of calling me out of my comfort zones regularly, which in turn creates a storm of thoughts and feelings that are not easily sorted out. The very best way I have to quiet the storm and be led through it (even good storms such as a wedding!) is to follow the lines of whatever is around me, pinning them down on paper as I can, catching them by the tail, and following them home.

RandyRelaxing

Bringing the full weight of all my attention to particular moments is what drawing affords me. Even knitting doesn’t quite rival this focus of mind and quieting of jumpy thoughts. I can still ruminate to beat the band whilst knitting and crocheting. (Unless of course I’m learning a new stitch pattern or following a chart, but even that is not the same.)

ToughGetGoing

I look back through this Moleskin and I can see so much that has happened in the past few months. Though there are no actual wedding drawings, I see and remember little moments leading up to it and beyond…that thread that reminds me I have a rope, a life-line, leading me in and through life’s big events as well as small ones.

bloom

I finally got around to reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic several weeks ago. The one thing that has stuck with me is a phrase she mentioned once or twice. “So here’s the part where I…” She recounts that after so many years of living this creative life, she now recognizes the patterns of her emotional and mental landscape that are repeated time and time again. This SO resonated with me! “So here’s the part where I get so busy I can hardly think straight let alone feel focused in my art.” “So here’s the part where I’m humming along with creative juices flowing daily.” “So here’s the part where I haven’t been able to create much and now that I can, I’m so backlogged with ideas I’m flailing around making anything and everything that comes to mind.” etc. etc.

JustUsThree

It is helpful in the midst of it all, to realize these patterns and that a thread runs through all of it, leading me out to a wide open space where I will regain a sense of harmony and direction in what I want to make. Drawing leads me through. Drawing makes all the jumpy thoughts and questions bed down for a time, allowing a sense of calm to flood back in.

MorningTea&Reading

I’ll keep following the line. I feel it already bringing me through the overgrown brush, the frenzied forest of life, and I know it will lead me out into that spacious place which may not be home yet, but a place to hang my hat for a time.

CienerAtLast

I sincerely hope that you too can follow a line today, pin it to paper, catch it by the tail and hang on for dear life, bringing the full weight of all your attention to small moments.  In so doing, your sketchbook will be a full, beautiful and rich account of the journey.

Sketchbook Chat #3

SketchbookChat

I’m getting a bit better! This one is under 15 minutes! Woo! Hoo!

In this Sketchbook Chat I share a demonstration of adding watercolor to a drawing of a privacy fence. What I aim for in these videos is not to teach you exactly how to hold the brush or apply the paint, but ways to think about your subject, your medium, your intent in making the page in your sketchbook. To me, all of this is MUCH more important than merely how you hold your paint brush, or which colors to use where. I hope it inspires you to splash around with watercolor in the pages of your own sketchbook today.

PrivacyFenceColor

This is the finished page in my Moleskine watercolor sketchbook. The video gives you a tilted view of the page as I paint, so I wanted you to see it more close-up. 🙂

Thank you, as always, for spending your time with me in these videos! Subscribe to my You Tube channel so you don’t miss any of them!

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

Wood Pile

WoodPileLines

I sat on the back deck to draw the gray-brown wood piled and ready for the chiminea. What drove me out here was a crazy busy day that had crowded out all illusions of peace as well as any significant time to create. I just needed to draw. Just sit for a few minutes and follow the contours of something, ANYTHING! Doesn’t matter what. Dull wood will do.

Two minutes into it, that familiar and delicious feeling of being drawn in came over me. The dull gray-brown wood was now a fascinating puzzle of shapes and mesmerizing lines meandering through bark and burl.

WoodPile

And then, a most marvelous thing happened. Color exploded in my mind’s eye as I drew the stack of wood. I could see its inner colors coming out. Yellows, oranges, reds and spots of blue crackling from within the wood, bursting to get out in a fiery display. I knew then I was seeing it as I would in the chiminea on a chilly autumn evening, perhaps that night.

How does this happen? How is it that in 10 minutes, maybe 15, of simple contour drawing, I am suddenly connected with a life-sustaining insight that it’s in the fires of an ordinary, albeit busy, life, that explosive color can be seen? How does it happen that in a simple act of creativity, beauty such as this can touch my soul and revive a weary pilgrim?

WoodPileWatercolor

I honestly don’t know how it happens. But I do know that it comes through this daily practice of creativity. An everyday commitment to make something, anything, imbues an everyday life with beauty. My gratitude for this is unending.

I’m self-publishing again. Soon, very soon, a small little book outlining a simple approach to living an Artful Life, will be offered to you and anyone who might wish to live their lives in such a way as to see the beauty in it, behind it, underneath it, no matter how normal, mundane or ordinary their life may seem.

Till then, I wish you many moments of creativity, transforming dull wood into explosive fiery color!

Under the Lily Pads

LilyPadsatSmithHollow

Yesterday I sat by a pond on the property of Smith Hollow Farm to draw. My pen followed the contours of the half-cloven pads with their stout yet delicate lilies popping up here and there. Some were mere bulbs yet to bloom, others had unfurled and outstretched their usual cup-like shape. Rich color everywhere.

This morning I look at my drawing and it hits me full-force…my focus was on the lily pads and all the while water was present. Water, the life and support for these lilies, is barely evident in the drawing, just hints of it in darker tones and tiny shapes surrounding the pads.

I have a tendency to fixate on the lily pads of life rather than the water. I was at the Farm to draw with friends (liles), while Maddie had a horseback riding lesson (lily), to have some drawing time before I gave a private knitting lesson (lily) and then to chores at home, feeding and caring for a family (lily pads). There are many MANY lily pads in my life, all beautiful and intricate and in some places there are so many that the pads can’t lay flat on the water. They are bunched up, crowding each other from sunning fully outstretched.

Yet I am becoming more aware of the water beneath the lily pads. Call it a pond, a well, a river, an ocean… it is a life-giving current of love and peace, joy and wholeness which supports and upholds all the lily pads.  This river is always present and it never runs dry. I long to fixate more and more on the water, drawing its paths and colors. In so doing I’ll be able to see the lily pads as more beautiful and shapely than I see when I fixate on them. This would be much like the exercise where you draw the negative spaces and thus wind up with the shape of the vase and flowers.

SmithHollowLilyPads

To draw from the well is an incredibly powerful image for me. For it is indeed when I draw that the straw of my pen and brush gets dipped into the these life-giving waters so that I might sip some of that love and peace, bringing joy and wholeness to the surface.

As the 50 year mark rolled right on by this week, I find myself utterly grateful for each and every lily pad in my life. Yet even moreso for the Water that supports and upholds, nourishes and sustains, ever-flowing underneath it all.

Which is It?

CatieKnitsEclection

I was asked this on a couple of occasions during the Eclection Art Show on Saturday. “So which is it you love the most? Drawing? or Knitting?” That has not been an easy thing to answer for many years. My own agony over which takes precedence over the other has been excruciating at times. Recently though, I’m finding some peace in a new way of thinking about it.

Late yesterday afternoon the door bell rang. I was in the throws of the final pages of Sarah Addison Allen’s book, The Sugar Queen. I got up and opened the door to no one. An Amazon package was sitting there on my front stoop. I picked it up, saw that it had my name on it. But knowing that I had not ordered anything, I took it to my husband and said it must be for him.

LimeSocks&Cloths

It turned out it was indeed for me, a gift from my dear dad. I knew this book was special since I had been reading about one of the main characters in Allen’s book for whom books just show up at just the right time. Chloe finds specific books on her kitchen counter, her bedroom floor, they follow her to work, etc. They are meant for her, to help her, encourage her right where she needs it. The book my dad sent to me is Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit.

DrawingNewSection

Let’s back up a bit, to the book I had just finished reading the day before devouring Allen’s book. I had been savoring Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You ‘re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are . Of the many, many wonderful things in this book, there was a section where she talked of another author (how many books will there be?) Marci Alboher, an author/speaker/coach who wrote: One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success. Brown writes, “Alboher interviewed hundreds of people pursuing multiple careers simultaneously and discovered how slash careers–researcher/storyteller, artist/real estate agent–integrate and fully express the multiple passions, talents, and interests that a single career cannot accommodate. Marci’s book is full of stories about people who have created meaningful work by refusing to be defined by a single career. “

So which is it?

All of it.

Artist/Knitter/Mother/Teacher

I like that. I could actually add a couple more slashes there. “Writer” comes to mind, though I am hesitant to call myself one. Seems too lofty. But I do a lot of it. And even more lately as I’ve been ruminating and mulling over many creative connections that are banging around in my head. It’s really the only way I can deal with all the thoughts in there…write them down. That way they reside somewhere other than in my head. Writing them down helps to sort them out and to make sense of the varying, sometimes disparate parts, integrating them and in-so-doing, giving me a sense of wholeness too.

NewSectionCienerLowRes

Which now brings me to the book that landed on my doorstep yesterday. I’ve been writing in my journal a lot lately about creative practices. A practice is something in one’s life he or she does on a regular basis that is not necessarily tied to a job, but is integral to one’s life and vocation. Many people have a practice of doing yoga or jogging, a practice of meditation or prayer. This is exactly what Twyla Tharp’s book is about…developing A Creative Habit, or ritual(s) in one’s life that nurtures and sustains. I am reading with relish this book that has so obviously come into my life at just the right time. Thanks Dad!

KnittingCompanion

I am not blogging  these days as often as I have in the past. There are many reasons for this, but the main one being that life is so very full right now. With life being full and my head being full (of thoughts), I need my creative habits all the more. I sketch and draw to drop into my busy life and really feel it, experience it, instead of just letting it pass me by. I knit to slow down, to find creative moments in the in-betweens of life–at soccer practices and on road-trips to Wingate, etc. I walk each day in and around my neighborhood, a life-long practice (habit) that is crucial to my health and well-being as a human being AND as a creative person. And, of course, I told you about writing… a rich, daily habit I’ve had for decades.

JawollSocks

And you? Which is it for you? What slash title would you give yourself? What habits do you have that sustain you? I’m planning on delving more into this whole topic in the future. Slowly. Bit by bit. As I have time, energy, and ability. In the meantime, I will keep drawing/knitting/writing/walking/praying/meditating/reading as “practices” or “habits” to sustain me. I hope you will too!

*****

Notes on some of the photos and drawings above:

The first drawing is of my oldest daughter when she visited and came with me to draw at Eclection. It is perhaps one of my favorite drawings of late as it combines several of my slash titles…mother/artist/knitter.

A pair of socks I finished knitting recently and a couple of washcloths. These are my go-to projects of late…perfect for taking with me everywhere.

Last week I followed an inner prompting to “go to the Gardens” even though I had a to-do list a mile long. I was delighted to discover a brand new section that has been opened at our Ciener Botanical Gardens!!

The completed drawing/painting of this new Garden section.

Our cat Lucy is often near me when I knit. If she isn’t in my lap, she is behind my head stretched out on the top of the chair, purring as I knit.:)

The latest pair of socks on the needles…delighting in every stitch, every color, every pattern. <Sigh>

A Newsletter for You!

KnitArtsPage

I now have a FREE Newsletter to offer you!!

At the end of last week I worked with MailChimp, an awesome newsletter creating site, to send out my first one. It is full of inspiration to keep the fiber flowing in your hands!

I have all sorts of ideas and plans for this little newsletter, so if you are at all interested in Knitterly things, subscribe to receive these monthly email newsletters!

Subscribe Here!

**The plan is to send these monthly, but they might be more often than that. Here are some of the topics these newsetters may include:

Where and When I’m teaching classes!

Links to patterns, yarns, my favorite blogs, etc.

A book recommendation (either a children’s book, pattern book, or book about life in yarn).

Encouragement to Be Creative!

It is all for YOU!! I hope you enjoy!

P.S. I am unsure whether you will be sent the first newsletter or not when you sign up. Let me know if you are able to get it.

A Humble Offering

LettersCover

You may or may not have known, but I have been writing a little side blog of encouragement for creative folks. I started these “Letters to an Artist” back in February of this year, as a way to remind myself of what is true about being an artist whose faith undergirds the creativity I seem to struggle with on a daily basis. These letters, (imagined and not intended to be actual words of Christ), are meant to be inspirational, and encouraging to creatives of all kinds, as well as to those who are creative but who do not realize it yet. 🙂

I have now compiled the first 75 letters into a book. It can be read all at once or like a devotional, one letter a day. It is my hope and desire that they will be of encouragement to you in your creative journey, and then spill over into every nook and cranny of your life.

Here are the links to where you can purchase a copy:

My Createspace eStore

Amazon

My Shoppe on Etsy–this is the only place to purchase a SIGNED COPY!

Be sure to indicate a name should you like it to be personally signed to them.

$9.95 ($10.95 for signed copy via Etsy)

Full color cover. Black and White Interior.

Please pass this along to friends and family who might enjoy this book. Share on Twitter, Facebook, or any social media means you have at your disposal. Of course, good ole “word of mouth” is awesome too! If you aren’t already following the Letters to an Artist blog, consider doing so, as I will post other “letters” in future.

Read/print out a sample page spread of this book!

In humble gratitude,

Jennifer

P.S. To keep the cost of this book as low as possible, the interior of the book is black and white. If I had included the color artwork of mine that you see here on the blog, it would have been too pricey. So I made simple black and white line drawings for each letter. I hope you enjoy them and the savings!!:)