Sketchbook Chat #5: Ordinary Drawings from an Ordinary Life

It is my desire to resume my Sketchbook Chats, so I’m picking up where I left off and offering you the fifth one!

I was out in my backyard drawing the rhododendron bush that is showing off right by our deck. I had planned to video more outside there, but alas, a neighbor began to mow his lawn, so I came indoors to show more sketches, drawings, paintings, all from my sketchbooks over the last several weeks.

I hope you are continuing to draw and sketch your life, finding beauty along the way!

Enjoy!

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

The Traffic Can Wait

I sit in a car. A lot.

It is not my favorite thing to do. At all.

On good days I can lay hold of the fact that all this driving around is actually due to great blessing in my life –

*an active, healthy,  involved-in-everything teenager.

*lots of classes in neighboring towns guiding women along their fiber journeys.

*errands to procure necessary provisions for a family.

But most of the time, in-between the grumbling, huffing and occasional involuntary expletive, I’m hunkered down, eyes-to-road, thinking where-to-next?

Unless I stop.

I have drawn before (as in the above drawing), these little aberrations of sight and wonder when I happen to turn my head left, out the driver’s side window and look. I don’t do it on purpose usually. It is often with a sigh and a desire to get off this flippin’ traffic-filled road and get on with the real stuff of life, that I turn my head.

I’m not expecting this. At all. But somehow in the fog of my negative thoughts, as I’m stopped in that never-ending automotive line, I can see…

A lovely meandering line of tracks, leading from underneath the bridge I’m on, up into rolling hills where light is carving out distinct shapes on a winter-hued landscape. How I would love to hop out of the car and go. To get on that train and follow those tracks to other towns, states, see the world a bit.

I’m enchanted by the view beside me, right where I am, even as my reverie is broken both by the formidable cement railing barring my jump onto the train, but also by the honking behind me as the traffic has grown impatient with my imagined train trip.

I get back into gear and lurch froward, smiling at the gift of being forced to stop in the midst of what I loathe, and being offered a view, a spot of beauty along my daily highway.

I need to stop and look more often as I drive.

The traffic will just have to wait.

P.S. I do not sit there in traffic drawing. Although perhaps I should! 🙂  I snap a picture with my phone to draw from later, thus a second gift of insight for the day.

The Verge of Chaos

I sat there in front of a photograph on the wall.

Straddling a cushioned cube at a local hangout spot, I was drawn to draw him. Ruffly shirt, dark eye peering out of stark value shifts. My own eyes tracing the shapes, the connections between shapes, the value shifts, squinting in order to see better.

What shall I use? Emptying my zippered pen/marker/pencil pouch, I didn’t realize I was talking out loud. One of my fellow drawers offered – “Use charcoal! It begs for charcoal!” Yes, I know…but I don’t wanna use charcoal…I feel rebellious.

Now if you met me, your first thought would NOT be – Wow…here’s one rebellious chic! Middle-aged, ordinary mom, dressed in homegrown clothes…quite predictable I’m sure. But today I did not want to choose the predictable. I adore charcoal. It is effortless and magical and allows you to lay in values and adjust transitions on a dime. What I wanted today was ink and water and pen and watercolor. I wanted to see if I could tame something whose primary property is FLOW (charcoal does not flow on its own), and to attempt to wrangle it into something that looked like a portrait. Yes… fountain pen, water brush, watercolor paint.

There was only a moment’s hesitation before setting my fountain pen to paper. Just enough time to choose where to start my line…on the page as well as the face…right here, I think. Then it was off to the races. Well, the tortoise race of following the contours of invisible lines were values meet. Not drawing a nose, just the shapes, where I see them. No pencil first, just gut and years of experience guiding me.

When all was said and done, or at least when I declared that the sketchbook paper couldn’t take anymore paint, that the flow I had been wrangling and taming was on that lovely verge of flowing right off the page, when I sat back and felt that it could stop in this most interesting place…I knew…

…I knew that it was not correct.

I will not go into all the ways this drawing (painting, sketch, whatever you want to call it) does not “match” the photograph, does not exhibit “correct” values or transitions, does not have perfectly measured shapes. What I will say, is that it delights me. This sketch, based purely on itself and not on any standard or pre-existing image, is exactly what I had set out for –

Unpredictable, full of flow and splash and texture, all within certain quasi-delineated bounds that give the overall impression of a face. Yes. This.

This is why I love to draw. As I peer into another’s face, a landscape, a jumble mess on my desk, I get a glimpse of my own self, of my world, of life. I could care less whether anyone else likes it, or think it’s “good” or not. In fact, I want to care less and less what I myself deem it to be.

What I want is to keep on peering into things, drawing them in unpredictable ways, trying new approaches, and so somehow to live the whole of my life in that chaotic flow, trying to wrangle it within invisible bounds so that beauty can emerge. I want to care less about whether the values are correct, the shapes perfectly measured. I definitely do not want my life to match someone else’s.

I must follow where I am led…riding on pools of watercolor as it flows, blooms, and splatters in unpredictable ways. Following  an invisible line that only my Maker draws out for me. This way of living delights me. Scares me. But fascinates me and keeps me coming back to the pages of my sketchbook.

Roadside Word Picking

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New Year’s Eve…I love Eve’s. They feel like that timeless space of hovering right before warp speed takes over. The eve of something begs for preparation, anticipation, reflection… a mindfulness about the next day and all that it will usher in. Christmas Eve feels like that, and so does New Year’s Eve.

The living room Christmas tree, my studio French tree, and all other decorations are down, packed away carefully and the house feels spacious and clear, ready for a New Year. I’m ready too! And excited for what 2017 might have in store. I know, full well, there will be challenges and perhaps even downright difficulties, sad and painful events. But I also know that making will be a huge part of the year ahead, just as it has been this past year and for so many  years of my life. It is what carries me, strengthens me, gives me joy. Creativity is the lens through which I see my life for the beauty that it is. Making things, be it drawings or paintings, knitted or crocheted items and now spinning wool and weaving wall-hangings, sustains me through thick and thin, in plenty and in want. As I make with my hands, it’s as if I’m holding a lifeline, grounding my feet to what is true, good and beautiful. Creativity allows me to take flights of fancy as it tethers and roots me to home and hearth. Living Artfully allows me to see beauty, as well as create it, in everyday, humble circumstances. I need this Artful way of living and I’m thrilled to continue in the New Year!

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This week between Christmas and New Year’s I’ve been spending some time pondering. Pondering and writing go hand-in-hand for me and I’ve logged numerous pages as I’ve tried to make sense of and sort through what felt like a jumble of clutter in my creative life. 2016 seemed to end with way too many irons in the fire, an explosion of too  many directions and not enough time or energy to really do any of them well. As I’ve left a pen’s worth of ink on the page, a sorting has occurred. As I’ve pondered the year ahead, a couple of words stand out to me:

SLOW and SIMPLIFY

Both verbs, they go together well, one nourishing the other. In simplifying my life, it is apt to slow me down a bit. As I slow my pace, things will need to simplify naturally. Much of this is challenging me to indeed clear out a few things. But mostly it’s a call to live present in each moment as if it is the only moment, and breathe into it, slowing and simplifying my expectation of accomplishment. This past year I began working on this in my day to day life. I did not master it (I wonder if that’s even possible) and therefore will continue the work of slowing and simplifying, even if it is just one small thing at a time.

spinningwool

The shakedown of all this pondering has left me with a simpler way of seeing all that I do as a creative person. My work as a knit and crochet teacher, the video podcasts, blogging in numerous places, as well as  pattern writing, will all continue but on a lessened scale. My hope is that this will allow me to spend less time on a computer and more time with a sketchbook or fiber in my hands. I’m increasingly drawn to spinning and weaving, which hold in themselves this call to slow down and simplify. It amazes me how I’m drawn to certain kinds of craft which hold an inherent way of living with them. In this, in spending time making, I am more in touch with the beauty around me and I learn how to live my everyday life with grace and wonder.

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I do have new ideas I’d like to see unfold in the New Year. But my gut tells me it isn’t now. Later. Perhaps even in the next year. For now, SLOW and SIMPLE is the way forward, relishing life, making with my hands, reminding myself and others that it isn’t about how MUCH you make, but HOW you make it…slow, gentle, and savored.

yummyweaves

All of this talk of SLOW and SIMPLIFY may seem so pie-in-the-sky! Even I myself, have a little scoffer sitting on my shoulder as I type: “Ha! This is gonna last you maybe the next hour, Jen, but wait ’til warp speed hits!” But to this I say that it’s not necessarily about being less busy. Life is full and seems to grow busier with each year. But this is more about a state of mind, a way of being in the midst of the busy-ness. Certainly I will need to pull back on what I say yes to. But I am committed to experiencing all of life with the same attention and slowness I give to drawing, or spinning, the same focus that’s needed for weaving and knitting. To grow in this capacity will be lovely. Yet even in the slowing and simplifying is a need to go slowly with it, simplifying the steps.

pickingwords2017

It all boils down to this: I plan on pulling off the daily path to sit each day and ponder. To draw the landscape around me. To knit the beauty into my heart. To weave wonder and grace into my life and offer it to others. I hope you’ll continue to walk with me here. Let’s savor together the work of our hands and the joy it brings us! Let’s encourage each other to go SLOW, to SIMPLIFY our distracted lives, and to live Artfully each day.

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

Could It Be?

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Could it be, in these small un-arted hours, beauty is wrought?

Could it be, in dishes and diapers, laundry and lunches, heaven is laid out?

Could it be, in lack and leanness, provision is lavished?

Could it be, in faces – not fancies – that fullness is found?

Could it be, as I embrace the small, my life is enlarged?

Could it be, that ART is happening even when I’m not making it?

Could it be, in all I feel as futile, God is fashioning beauty?

Could it be, the big life I long for is found in the little life I live?

Could it be, the constraints of time and money, unleash creativity?

Could it be, the pain of not making is simply the longing to be near Thee?

Could it be, this passion that seems to leak out a sieve, is actually being sifted, refined, made pure?

Could it be, even if I had all the time, energy, and provision to do my art, to live the big life I long for, that it would not be enough to satisfy or reach said big life and big art?

Could it be, that in me – a common vessel – resides eternity?

Could it be, that this side of heaven, I’m to weave my little thread, even if it’s the same thread as yesterday, or a new one I find along the way?

Could it be, my daily work is to draw a line from everyday things to eternity and back again.

Could it be, that contained in my insignificant, small life, the realms of heaven abide and He lives in grace and truth abounding?

Could it be, that the King of all nations would be born in a barn and sleep in a trough?

Could it be, that the Master Artist comes to create in humble, insignificant lives?

Could it be, the grandest art is made on the littlest scale?

Could it be, that True Beauty is wrought in lack, insignificance, and tedium?

Could it be I have it all wrong – instead of this life being about ME being able to do my art and thereby live my BIG life…that it is rather about CHRIST, the high and holy one, coming to live BIG in my humble and insignificant life?

Could it be, that my insignificant life is transformed into a magnificent one through the humblest of events – a babe in a manger, Emmanuel, God with us.

*****

Retuning my heart this day after Christmas, weary from so much merry-making, wondering where the Beauty is, reclaiming what is true and good. May your days after Christmas be magnificently insignificant as the babe weaves His love into your life.

Artfully yours,

Jennifer

What I Really Want for Christmas

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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

Every Common Bush

morningvespers

Earth is crammed with heaven,

and every common bush afire with God;

but only he who sees takes off his shoes.”

-Elizabeth Barret Browning

I’m waking early these days. I haven’t been able to pinpoint why until this morning. Usually, when I start waking up early, it’s due to worries and cares vying for brain space, feeble attempts to solve each problem. This is not the case lately. I’m awake and alive with a desire or anticipation of something…

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I quietly make my way downstairs, slipper-footed, make a pot of coffee, and assume my position on the floor. This has become my favorite spot for Morning Vespers – a space for listening, praying, pondering, treasuring all that I’ve been given, and all that will be granted today. It is a centering space where I ground myself to what is true, knit the words of Christ into my heart, and draw upon His grace for the day.

roanokedrive

I do, literally, draw. Each morning, at least one simple drawing of something around me, right where I am, here where I live and move and have my being. Ordinary, every day things. I used to think, in my early years as an artist, that I had to find the spectacular to draw. I thought I needed the perfect subject matter, the lighting just-so, a favorable composition. For many years now, it is the common ordinary things of my own small life that become burning bushes. As I begin the day, I re-commit to this practice of looking for the “burning bushes”, taking off my shoes and drawing them (the bushes…and the shoes!), knowing that even here is holy ground.

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I think it is the beginning of Advent that has me up so early with a feeling of anticipation and longing. My temptation is to look for something big to happen, something amazing, something grand. But as I draw the ordinary common-place things of my life, I’m reminded that it is the small and insignificant things that Christ comes to inhabit. It is right here, in small towns, in barns and mangers, in the hearts of ordinary people, shepherds as well as wise men.

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Advent is one of my favorite seasons. It really seems like there are burning bushes everywhere – all of earth aflame with God. I want eyes to see these bushes, a heart peeled and looking for them, and hands ready to draw them into my sketchbook and life.

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As I draw, I hear Him calling my name. And like Moses, I answer – Here I am. (Ex. 3:4)

*****

Won’t you join me this Advent, in drawing the common bushes in your life? I’d love to know if you are doing this! And if you are posting your drawings somewhere, let me know so I can walk with you this Advent.

To view these daily drawings, visit me on Instagram.

In the Presence of a Tree

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I sat in the presence of a tree today
to lean in, to listen to
what it has to say.

To draw from its lines a story of the tree
with pen and brush in hand,
my sketchbook on my knee.

It offered me a leaf, with limb bent low,
and dindled and quivered
glad for me to know.

It drew itself up tall, proud against the sky.
Then settled for the portrait
breathing out a sigh.

My lines caress its roots, mark each scar around the trunk.
Then out on limby ledges,
each a mystery to debunk.

I hear the breeze of ages past, dance from leaf to leaf.
My pen records the music
on a bark-made sheaf.

-jpe

*****

I hope you get to sit in the presence of a tree today!

(The above is today’s drawing for #inktober!)

FINALLY!!

SketchbookChat

SKETCHBOOK CHAT #4!

Drawings from a two-day sketch crawl in Boone, NC with my parents!

Tips and techniques for you to try as well!

Enjoy!

Artfully Yours,

Jennifer

My Trellis

BirthdaySky

There’s been lots of livin’ and therefore lots of drawin’!!

Somehow I thought life would slow down after the wedding, but since it hasn’t, filled to the brim with all good things, I’ve taken to drawing to slow down the moments a bit, to lean into all the goodness jam-packed into my days and weeks.

Even before my birthday last week, I had been drawing, drawing, drawing. Not even stopping long enough to Instagram them all!! Lately it feels as if I cannot get enough of it. Like there isn’t enough paper to catch all the lines and wrangle them into memories. Yet with each drawing, I can sense the haphazard jaunts of living being groomed into something more steady, upright, and ordered. Or at least somewhat ordered.

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Drawing is a trellis for me. Laying down line after line, offers a solid trellis for the color and textures. Scaffolding is another good word for it…a solid form upon which to hang all manner of splashed-on, riotous color. Without a trellis, the vine just takes over. With a trellis, there’s peace, order, structure. I like structure.

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Even without any color added. Just lines. Lots of lines. Line as the ultimate abstraction. I love them. Yes I do. I’m putting lines down every day. Must. Draw. I’m nearly half way finished in a brand new sketchbook I just recently purchased. Fun. Good medicine.

I’ll share more of them soon! In the meantime, I hope you are able to set down a trellis or two in your own sketchbook! Keep ’em flowing…hang onto them…cling to the trellis and you’ll grow a bit more every time.