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!

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💖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.🌼

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!💖

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.

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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!🙏💖

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…💖

Drawings Beget Drawings


Perhaps it’s a law of Physics…but it is a reality I’ve noticed time and time again, that when you set your pen to paper and make a drawing, three others are begging to be drawn!

You draw the tree and in doing so you notice daffodils are blooming a full month early! And one must, simply MUST draw the daffodils too.

Or you imagine a large Oak tree and in drawing it, mice show up busily making a merry life all around while a friendly Owl watches over them.

On and on each drawing woos and entices you to keep drawing and even to draw the space around you or the people sitting nearby.

This is just the way it is. When you draw, there will be more to draw. And you’ll find yourself so in love with drawing your world, whether real or imagined, that you fall asleep thinking of tomorrow’s tree, or whether you’ll have time for a few more drawings than just the one daily tree drawing.

Like Frost’s poem about swinging on birches…I too would like to go…perhaps by climbing it…but preferably by drawing the  birch tree…

…draw the black branches up the snow-white trunk that leads my gaze toward heaven as I keep drawing until my page can bear no more…💕

One could do worse than be a draw-er of trees. It will lead to all kinds of adventures in a sketchbook.😃